|Flags Fly at the Ross Township Municipal Building|
Two years ago Friday, a deranged gunman attacked citizens and township officials at a monthly supervisors meeting in Ross Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania Three people died including the zoning officer- who I had the honor of working with the winter before he was brutally murdered.
I was their alternate sewage officer at that time but was not present at the meeting. The primary sewage officer was at the meeting and threw himself over a railing on an emergency exit ramp and fell 15 feet onto hard ground. He punctured a lung and never fully recovered. He passed away this past year. I count him as the fourth casualty.
His name was Truman Burnett and he was older than me by a few years. We were never friends but I respected him and was honored to cover for him when he went to Florida for the winter, fishing in the summer, or when he sold headstones at the West End Fair at the end of August. Each time he would call me and say something like, "Hey kid, I'm taking a week off to go fishing. I'll call you when I get back" And just like that, I was covering for him. I miss him calling up and saying, "Hey Kid".
A week after the mass shooting I was sitting at his desk. There were bullet holes in the wall with small State Police ID tags taped next to the holes. There was no "Hey kid" phone call. When I arrived, a security officer was screening everyone before we entered. The carpet in the meeting room was removed- ruined from all the blood.
I looked across at the zoning desk of Dave Fleetwood, who was mortally wounded that night. Dave was always so careful about making certain we used a buddy system when we would drive to properties in violation. He recognized that there were some unstable characters out there and that safety in numbers was prudent. It is ironic he died in a meeting room full of people.
The window the shooter used in the initial stage of his attack was now boarded up. The room felt sad and full of death. It was very difficult to work there those first few weeks. I kept thinking about how easy this could happen at any township meeting. It doesn't matter if the shooter is a certifiable or a member of ISIS- the result is the same: innocent people who care about their community will die.
Lots of local folks knew the Ross Township killer and his family. He was always crazy, they would tell me. He was the person who sat at the counter of the local diner and complain loudly about the state of the world- government can't be trusted, and other dark schemes .
At our local diner, there are a couple of crazy old men who sit at the counter and complain loudly about the state of our country- how our government can't be trusted, and other dark schemes.
Here is a snippet of the conversation/monologue overheard while eating breakfast at our local diner:
"They are discriminating against the white man in this country. We need to fix that. This is our country, a white country, built by white men and we need to protect our rights. We have rights too, ya know. And we have to do whatever it takes to protect our rights!"
Whatever it takes. That is a dangerous statement one should take to heart, Now at every township meeting (and there are several each month) I scan the audience for strangers and when the front door rings indicating another person is about to enter the meeting room I tense up just enough and remember to keep low and get to the nearest exit as fast as possible and then run for cover.
This is the new reality of local government service. Then again, I do the same thing at the movies, at a restaurant, at a concert, or a sporting event. Perhaps it is simply the new reality that we all share- public meetings, movie theaters, schools, concert halls, festivals, races, or simply riding a train, flying in a plane, or hopping on a bus. Pay attention to your surroundings and be ready to run for your life.
That should not stop us from enjoying our freedom, so valiantly fought for by so many in the name of country, a freedom that others have spilled blood and given their own lives to defend. That is why their sacrifice must be deeply respected because if it weren't for them, soldiers and citizens alike, there would be no elections in this country, no freedom of speech, no bill of rights, no right to keep and bear arms, no right to assemble, no rights at all.
My thoughts and prayers are with Ross Township this day.