Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Hard Anniversary

A year ago tonight, I wrote this post. The outpouring of support from friends near and far was amazing, and it continued to flow in, as I talked about in this post.

Today marks the first anniversary of the City Hall shootings and it's still hard to fathom that they happened here, where I live, to people I knew. The following is a piece I submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which they ran as a letter to the editor.

Two years ago, when Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby were discovered here in Kirkwood, we, as a community grappled with how it could have happened right here in our own backyard. Michael Devlin became the face of the bogeyman, that danger in our midst we never suspected or saw. I remember shivering when my oldest son, away at college in Ohio, mentioned that of course he knew who “Devo” was—everyone did. The story brought the national media to town, and I thought, well, there it is, Kirkwood’s 15 minutes of fame.

I wondered how many times I’d seen Shawn over the years and hadn’t known it. And I worried about what else I was blind to, what else I wasn’t seeing.

And then one year ago, gunshots fired into the heart of my town, and we gathered, in stunned shock, to mourn, to hold close, to ask why. We lit candles, and held up flags, and bought buttons and yard signs to show our unity. We answered questions from friends and family who called from far away to ask if we were okay (not really, but we said yes), if we knew any of the victims (most likely, yes), and how this could have happened (no one knew how to answer that one).

Once again, we tried to make sense of a danger we hadn’t foreseen. And we beat ourselves up at how we could have missed the signs, the clues, the warnings.

After the national media folks left, with their trucks and lights and cameras, winter ambled on. Community meetings began as we tried to answer the hardest questions, as we tried to speak from our hearts, and as we tried to understand one another.

Finally, spring arrived, bringing with it rain and an election and Mike Swoboda’s emotional return. We went back to our routines, stopping at odd moments to gasp at the realization of what had transpired in our own town, at our City Hall which could have come right out of central casting.

Soon, summer was here, and as I walked my dog in the mornings, down streets named for presidents, I wondered if it was just my imagination that made it seem as though there were more people out, that front porches were more popular, and that strangers were friendlier, kinder, more open.

I wished Matt Lauer or Katie Couric would come see my town now, in all its summer green and warmth. I wanted them to see the real Kirkwood, the one that welcomed me eighteen years ago when I moved here and nurtured and protected my sons as they grew up.

And while that won’t happen, other things have and will. There continue to be community meetings. A fundraiser brought in an outpouring of donations and dollars for the families of those killed in the rampage. People seem to wave and smile more.

And as we come to the first year anniversary of the shootings, I wonder what the next year will bring. I hope we’ll continue reaching out and trying to understand one another. I hope we’ll be more patient and less rushed. I hope more neighbors will spend time in their front yards and come to appreciate even more the friendliness of front porch steps. I hope we’ll expect the best from ourselves and give the benefit of the doubt to others.

That would be the best legacy of all. Ken Yost, Mike Lynch, Connie Carr, Mike Swoboda, and Officers Biggs and Ballman loved Kirkwood and worked hard to make it a better community. In honoring them, we shouldn’t accept any less from ourselves.


debra said...

Thanks for a lovely, thoughtful post, Judy. We are forever changed by experiences like these. We are suddenly thrust into emotional adulthood, our childlike sensitivities having been yanked away.
Hugs to you.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Yes...Debra has said it well --

kristenspina said...

Judy, this is a lovely piece and a beautiful tribute to your community. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Thanks so much . . .

Daisy said...

Well said. Good wishes for peace in your community.

LarramieG said...

Judy, I'm stunned that it's been a year and can only imagine how the town must feel. Still there is hope through life's lessons.

Lisa said...

Like Larramie, I'm stunned that it's been a year already. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that this was happening and "our friend" was there in the community where it happened. This is a moving post. Your

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Again, thanks to all of you, for your support and friendship.

Carleen Brice said...

Wow, it's been a year already? Loved your post!