Thursday, September 11, 2008

Victims of the Skagit Valley Shooting

I’m going to pause in the middle of Whitney’s trilogy of articles about the Olympics and write about something completely different.

Flags are flying at half staff all over Skagit County, and I feel that I need to pause and make reference to the situation. I know Whitney won’t mind.

On a Tuesday afternoon, September 2, a young man went on a shooting rampage in a hamlet just a few miles north of here. He killed six people and wounded four. One of the slain was the sheriff’s deputy who was the first responder to a call about a disturbance. Two were neighbors in different houses who lived nearby. Two more were construction workers doing a remodeling job next door. The last victim was a motorist driving on the interstate. The people investigating the car crash didn’t tie his death to the other carnage until they saw the bullet wound.

This is a tragedy of immense proportions, and people are still trying to understand it. The shooter suffers from mental illness, but with state laws as they stand, a person has to be judged to be an imminent threat to himself or others to be involuntarily committed to an institution. The family says they tried, but failed.

Fast and testimony meeting last Sunday was a somber affair, and I was surprised at how many of our congregation were touched directly by what happened. The arresting officer is a young father in our ward. His wife spoke of him praying, as he pulled onto the freeway in hot pursuit and knowing that there were at least five already dead, praying that he would live to see his wife and daughter again, but doing what he had to do.

Another brother in the ward is an EMT and works on an ambulance crew. He was one of the ones called to deal with the aftermath, with the bodies of the victims.

One of the victims was about the age of my oldest daughter. A friendly, outgoing checker at the local supermarket, she had greeted just about everyone in the community at one time or another as she scanned their groceries. Her aunt is a member of our ward, as well.

Seeing the flag at half-staff today, I thought about the service of each, about the slain deputy who began as an animal control officer and worked hard to progress to the position of deputy. She was always reaching out to those less fortunate, and she had told the family of the shooter to call her if they found they couldn’t deal with their son.

I thought about the young LDS patrolman, driving and praying, and, after all that killing and high speed chasing, how the shooter finally drove to the sheriff’s parking lot and gave himself up without incident.

I thought about the service of the men and women who drove the ambulances to give aid to the wounded and to bring back the bodies of the slain.

I thought about the families, gathering together, sustaining one another, doing what you have to do to carry on in the face of such senseless loss. My friend wasn’t at church on Sunday. I missed her beaming smile from the library window when I came in early for choir practice. It was only later that I learned that her niece was one of the victims.

As I drove past the school and the post office today, I appreciated that lowered flag. It made me pause to remember the two women and four men who died that Tuesday afternoon.

Skagit County Sheriff's Deputy Anne Jackson
Chester M. Rose
David Thomas Radcliffe
Gregory Neil Gillum
Julie A. Binschus
Leroy Lange

I dedicate this column to them and ask that you keep their families in your prayers.

Click here and here for links to news stories about the shootings.

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