Small town safety is an illusion

By choosing to live in a small town, one gives up a certain amount of big city amenities; easy access to a wide variety of cultural activities, diversity of shopping options, the convenience of having everything you want or need close at hand and generally just more of everything.

The main thing a small town life gives back in return is a feeling of safety. You are rewarded with the feeling that you know most of your neighbors, that you’re a real part of the community and that you have made a proactive step in keeping safe the people you love most.

At least that was a big part of my reasoning when moving to the North Carolina foothills from the New York metro area a decade ago. With a daughter about to enter high school, it seemed like the prudent thing to do. Teenagers are adept enough at finding trouble without making it easy for trouble to find them.

On Monday morning when news reports began to surface of a man on the outskirts of Jonesville, the town where I live, shooting and wounding law enforcement and his neighbors, that implicit deal of the perceived safety of small town life was irreparably broken for me.

My brother and his wife made their first home and began raising their children on the street where the violence erupted and I still have family in the neighborhood. Even though I live a couple of miles away, it was still way too close. Besides, the most convenient route to downtown from the area of the shooting passes right down my street and it chills me to think that a homicidal maniac regularly drove by my house, possibly even while I was playing with my toddler grandchildren on the front lawn as we often do.

Putting my new found paranoia of gun wielding criminals aside, many people suffered that day and continue to suffer though mainstream news of it has been scarce. Official news reports focused on the shooting of Wilkes County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Steven Russell and mentioned in passing that two others were shot who were not law enforcement officers. Their injuries were reported as non-life threatening and were generally treated as peripheral to the story.

I found out later Monday evening that in at least one of those cases, non-life threatening does not equal not serious. And that to the families of the person suffering those non-life threatening yet very serious injuries, they are most certainly not peripheral. It must have been painful to those families to have their loved one treated as nothing more than collateral damage by law enforcement and the media.

Even before the names of the civilian victims had been released by the media, I had received a prayer request for one of the victims on Facebook that included detailed information about his condition and what had happened. Even though I don’t know him personally, I am good friends with a friend of his mother and she posted the information.

It is indeed ironic to me that Facebook, land of unending misinformation, disinformation, half truths, cat videos and outright lies provided a better handle on the story than any of the news outlets covering the story.

So in my idyllic small town where the biggest complaint is that nothing ever happens, something has indeed happened and it was very bad. Since it is a small town, even though I knew no one involved, I’m only about two degrees separated from the carnage. I would imagine the same claim could be made by almost everyone in town and the others would be even closer.

This sort of thing probably happened in my former home all the time and I never even knew about it. A couple of miles would have meant a different neighborhood, probably a different zip code and involved people with whom I had no connection. We would have shopped in different stores and taken a different train to work. Our paths would never have crossed.

That small town feeling of knowing everyone cuts both ways. When you know everyone, you are connected to all the bad as well as the good. The rest of my life could pass without another incident like this one, but that’s not going to matter. My feeling of safety is gone. Even though it was always an illusion, it felt real. And now it’s gone.

Monday was just another day in America with a gun-wielding nutball running amok and wreaking havoc. As these stories go, it wasn’t even one of the more spectacular ones. But this one was a little too close to home.

Bill Colvard is the lifestyle editor for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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