|courtesy of tryufm.org|
So the headline screamed at me when I awoke Friday morning, February 26th. I was in shock. Hesston, where the murders took place, was not really on my radar screen. I’m sure I’d driven past the small town but never really noticed it. I could bet on the fact that my father had customers from there. Perhaps I’d even waited on some of them in my days of helping out at the store.
The wounded, the article reported, had been taken to St. Francis Hospital. The hospital where I’d been born, where my mother, aunt, and uncles worked, where my father had had open heart surgery was certainly part of my reality. How could this have happened in the peaceful state I’d grown up in?
Then my daughter reminded me of the BTK murderer. Dennis Rader began his bind, torture, and kill slayings after I’d already left home. His first crime took place walking distance from my parent’s house when he strangled, suffocated, and hung four victims of one family. Over a span of seventeen years he murdered six more victims until he was finally apprehended in 2005.
His grisly crimes reminded me of the Clutter family murders made infamous by Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood. I was a child of five then and don’t have any memories of the fear that gripped Kansas. I do remember, however, that there was some heinous crime committed when I was nine or ten.
Perhaps my memory is erroneous because I can find nothing to affirm this recollection from conversations with older relatives or articles on the internet. I could attribute it just to run-away imaginations of kids except for the conversation with my mother that I clearly remember.
I’d spent the late afternoon hours with my cousins and neighborhood friends. One of the children began talking about some criminal named Otney who’d broken out of jail. He was known to be armed and dangerous. And then one of the girls reported in a shaky voice that Otney, his name was said with dread, had vowed he’d rape every girl in Kansas before he was caught.
What was rape? Another girl told us that she’d looked up the word in the dictionary. According to her it meant to be taken away. Now we were all terrorized with not only thoughts of murder but also kidnapping. The joking reassurance, don’t worry, if anyone would kidnap you they’d bring you back after a couple of hours, no longer seemed so reassuring.
It was time to go home and I returned shaking with fear. The name Otney hadn’t appeared in the newspaper’s comics or Dear Abby. Maybe it wasn’t true at all and the bigger kids had just tried to scare us younger ones. I confronted my mother. She admitted the story was true.
“How can you let me walk to school or play outside?” I demanded indignantly.
And my mother gave me a simple, four word answer.
“I pray a lot.”
I’ve never forgotten that answer. Hate, terror, murder, and other crimes can happen anywhere, sadly, even in my peaceful childhood state. However, I refuse to let the threats immobilize me. I do not let fear overcome me. I continue with my life. And, like my mother, I pray a lot.