It's Been a Tough Week in Columbia County

This is going to be completely different than any of my last blog posts. Normally I'd write this down in a journal of stuff I keep about work, but I decided to put it out here instead. I don't know why. And I'm going to try and write another blog post this week, since I skipped last week.

There was a mass shooting in our county last week, the first as far as we can tell in the history of the county. Five people were murdered by a guy named Wayne Hawes, who then killed himself. The five victims were all members of his estranged wife's extended family. I wasn't working when it happened but I was during the candlelight vigil and was sent as the representative of the Sheriffs Office and to oversee the security and any traffic issues.

The community that this happened in, named King Villa, is, like many African American communities in the south I think. Two streets, maybe fifty houses, both carved out of the woods long before I was born by the Johnson and Mcladdie families, both of who still dominate the small tight knit community. Some of the houses are as old as the streets, and are barely standing but still lived in. Some of them are newer and have been built within this century. And there are a few mobile homes that have long ago had the wheels taken off are planted into the dirt. If you drive onto the streets you are going to see people slowly walking from one house to the next, kids running around, and during the summer a lot of people grilling out and having a beer. And lots of people sitting on their porches.  

I was standing there at the candlelight vigil, and was thinking about all the history and all the great stories that live within those streets. As a person who loves a story, who sometimes would rather live inside of one than in real life, it really struck me that there must be some amazing ones just inside those streets that will never be told to anyone that isn't sitting on a front porch on Johnson Drive, sharing a beer with a neighbor. 

In the fifteen years I've worked at the Sheriffs Office, I have memories that I'll carry with me forever just from those two streets. As a patrol officer I remember when a house burned down on Johnson Drive, and the father was able to get a few family members out, but was killed going back inside to try and save the rest. I was married at the time, but not a dad. And I had a clear understanding, if your kid is in a burning house, you are going either save them or die trying. My wife and I were talking about kids at that point in our marriage, and I'll never forget that night realizing that I would have to do the same thing.

A house on Mcladdie Drive was the first time I was on an entry team with the SRT or SWAT team. I had tried out for and joined our SRT or SWAT team a couple of years before, but just because you make the team doesn't mean you get to do any of the cool shit. A lesson I learned very quickly. And, after proving myself for a few years, I'll never forget sitting in the briefing and hearing my name being called on the primary entry team. It's probably hard to understand how much that meant to me unless you've been on a SWAT team, but it was huge. And I'll never forget the guys breaching that door with a ram, and how things slowed down as we went room to room like we had practiced thousands of times weapons raised and ready.

And lastly, when I was a Staff Sergeant and new deputies had to ride with me for a night, I'd always take them to King Villa and show them a few things. There are trails that connect to other streets, and that run behind all the houses in the woods. And there is a small shed at the back corner of the neighborhood that has been converted into a small bar where they sell alcohol and gamble on the weekends. I always bring the new deputies and show them the shed, and explain that we may get a fight call back here but usually the community takes care of itself and won't call us. In fact, usually they will only call us as a last resort. One of the last kids I had before I was promoted asked me, "If they are illegally selling alcohol and gambling, why don't we arrest them for that?" I shook my head, he obviously wasn't getting my point.

And none of those are even really good stories. That community has been there for probably fifty years or more. Can you imagine the stories that are told on some of those front porches? Some of the history that community has been witness to? I was envious of those as I stood there, and then the realization of why I was there reminded me of the tragedy they were trying to navigate through.

This guy killed three people in one house, and two in another. They were all getting ready for a barbeque. One of the ladies still had a knife she was cutting chicken with in her hand by the time the first deputies got on scene. The other couple, they were both still sitting on the couch together.

How does a community with so much history, so many family members, deal with that? That was what I started to wonder as the hundreds of people got ready to release some balloons. Then, they answered the question for me.

The preacher was using a microphone and made it a point to talk about praying for all the families that were lost, including the one who committed the crime. That got more vocal "Amens" than anything else. Here we were five days past the worst mass shooting in the counties history and the community that it happened in, were already forgiving the guy responsible and praying for him and his family.

Pretty impressive, if you ask me.