“THIS is not Duncan, Oklahoma.”
So said District Attorney Jason Hicks after Tuesday's court hearing where three teenagers were charged in connection with the murder of an East Central University student, a 22-year-old Australian named Christopher Lane.
Hicks' words were meant to send a message to Australians and the world: Gunning down a man out for a jog, for no apparent reason other than boredom, isn't business as usual in Duncan or Oklahoma. This really isn't the Wild West. This is a horrendous crime that will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
No, this is not Duncan, Oklahoma. Like so many communities across Oklahoma, Duncan is filled with decent, God-fearing people, the kind of folks who rally to help others in their time of need. Churches and other organizations in Duncan did just that following the May tornadoes in Moore and Bethel Acres; indeed a youth group from the First Baptist Church had plans to lend further assistance in Bethel Acres this week.
Duncan didn't murder Lane, just as Dallas didn't assassinate John F. Kennedy. Knee-jerk reactions to horrific events often look for scapegoats — racism, local attitudes, lax gun laws. None of these is responsible for Lane's death. Blame goes to the person who pulled the trigger.
The shooting generated worldwide attention because of the victim's foreign visitor status and the “thrill killing” tag. It generated calls for a tourist boycott of the United States and stricter gun laws. The latter was to be expected. But now is not the time for those debates.
Instead, this is a time to join millions of Americans grieving for a family on the other side of the world. This is a time to demonstrate the best Oklahoma qualities — caring and compassion.
Lane had fallen for a Duncan girl, after the two met in junior college. The two had traveled to Australia this summer. Lane was in town visiting her and her parents at the time of his killing.
The senselessness of the shooting makes it all the more troubling. Family members and acquaintances of the boys accused of the crime say they had started to run with the wrong crowd. Yet that hardly explains a decision to drive around looking for someone to shoot.
The image of Duncan and Oklahoma will suffer, at least for a time, but that's insignificant compared with the suffering inflicted on Lane's family. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said it well in remarks Wednesday: “There are no words that will help us make sense of the tragic loss of Chris Lane or truly express the sympathy felt by those living in Oklahoma.”
Such a horrific event provokes outrage but also an abiding sense of sadness — for the victim, for his family, for his girlfriend, for the families of the boys who allegedly committed this crime, for the boys themselves (who if convicted will rightfully spend decades behind bars), and for our society in general. All have been scarred.
And while we may never understand such depravity, we can tell the world that Oklahomans don't look the other way when tragedies hit close to home.