One of the most poignant articles written after the September 11 terrorist attacks came from the strangest of places: The Onion. The title of the article was “Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake.” The article details how a woman, feeling utterly helpless after the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, bakes a cake to feel the hurt in a tangible way, to cope with tragedy, and to feel some sort of connection to a community in mourning. “‘I had to do something to force myself away from the TV,” said Pearson, 33, carefully laying rows of strawberry slices on the white-fudge-frosting-covered cake. ‘All of those people. Those poor people. I don’t know what else to do.’” It’s an almost silly article, one meant to bring some sort of levity to an unspeakably tragic situation. I cry every time I read it. It was also the first thing I thought of this morning, April 29, 2021, after something unspeakable happened in my community.
If you hadn’t seen or heard, last night, April 29, 2021 in Boone, North Carolina, a gunman engaged in a 13 hour standoff with police from not only Boone Police Department, but, according to the Watauga Democrat, the Appalachian State University Police, Avery County Sheriff’s Office, Beech Mountain Police, Blowing Rock Police, Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Hickory Police, Morganton Public Safety, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, West Jefferson Police and Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office as well. The gunman had shot his mother and father, as well as two Boone PD deputies that were conducting a wellness check on the parents after they hadn’t shown up for work that morning. In total five people died: Michelle and George Ligon, who were the mother and stepfather of the shooter: Boone PD Deputies Chris Ward and Logan Fox: and the shooter, 32 year old Isaac Barnes who committed suicide. Deputy Ward was transferred to the Watauga Medical Center where he was stabilized, but died while being airlifted to Johnson City, TN. Deputy Fox was shot in the head and dragged into the house by Barnes who held him there until the standoff ended at around 10:15 that night. Deputy Fox was declared dead shortly thereafter. The standoff ended when Barnes killed himself after almost 13 hours of being barricaded in the house and occasionally shooting in the direction of the police. The result was a total of five deaths and a community shaken into shock and mourning.
I could write about gun control, the police, or expanded access to mental health counseling. I could spend an hour talking about how this could have been prevented had the gunman not had access to a firearm, and conversely, I could spend an hour on how this could have been avoided had the gunman had better access to mental health services. There are about a dozen and a half things that I could hackishly write about in order to sell some sort of political point.
But that isn’t what I want to do. It wouldn’t help anyone.
Yesterday was something that I never would have imagined would happen in the town of Boone, North Carolina. In my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida? I could see something like this happening. I hate to even think about that, but with Jacksonville being a large city with a high crime rate, it isn’t unthinkable for something this horrific to happen there. Just four years ago a 15 year old boy murdered and buried his grandmother in the backyard of her Neptune Beach home. As heinous and awful as that is, it never felt like it was that close to me, even though I lived less than 15 minutes away from where the murder occurred. But this? In Boone? A town with less than 20,000 permanent residents? Where there are as many college students as permanent residents? It still is surreal and unreal to me. Coupled with the fact that it happened less than 2 miles away from my house makes me feel a strain of sadness I have never felt before. I didn’t know any of the victims or their families personally, but I know people who do. My girlfriend, who works at the hospital and was there when all of this went down, works with at least three nurses whose husbands are on the Boone PD. My coworker, who was alerted to the identity of the parents yesterday afternoon, was friends with the parents. I had to see him minutes after he found out it was friends of his that were either killed or were being held hostage by their deranged son. This town is small enough where there are no more than 20 minutes and three degrees of separation between every person here. Everyone has been affected.
I don’t want to pontificate on guns, the police, mental health, or any policy policy position or ridiculous slogan. I want to cope, feel, and connect: cope with something to which I feel very close: feel the sadness instead of letting it sit and fester and eventually turn into anger and confusion: and connect with this community, one that I feel close to, despite only living here two and a half years. I want to bake my American-Flag cake.