McKenzie: 'They Came to Help'
Carthage Police Chief Chris McKenzie said he is overwhelmed every time he thinks about the tidal wave of support that swept over his town from every direction to help his town cope with the tragic events at Pinelake.
"The thing I want to do specifically is thank a handful of folks that were huge in support," McKenzie said. "Certainly Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter and his office. People don't realize the number of hours and unbelievable amount of work they have been doing this week. I can't name all the investigators, but I can thank them all.
"There are others. Maureen Krueger. There is not one event I've been to that she hasn't been there to stand behind me, back me up. Jamie Boles was always there. Harris Blake was there. These folks deserve so much recognition for what they make happen, and they don't get enough credit for it. There are a ton of other people working out there still."
One image sticks in McKenzie's mind from Sunday morning at the murder scene: the sight of different uniforms working side-by-side.
"I hope this helps make people understand," McKenzie said. "I may be mistaken, but I think if there was a law enforcement agency working anywhere in Moore County that day, they came to help. Everyone was there. Or, they called and asked and were told to 'stand by.' Robbins, Taylortown, Foxfire P.D -- every agency was there. Every time I turned around there was a new uniform there to help me."
McKenzie said he will never ever be able to thank those folks enough.
"I don't have the words," he said. "I hope they understand. All I can say is, this is just the kind of county we live in."
McKenzie he did not have to ask for help in some instances. Help came.
"The N.C. Highway Patrol crisis intervention team was there from helping all kind of people deal with what happened." he said. "I never even had to ask, they were just there. Division of Social Services and Sandhills Mental Health collectively were there."
When the call went out from 911 dispatchers, keys turned in ignitions, beepers summoned law enforcement and other emergency personnel from church pews and lights started to flash.
"The day of the event, all emergency medical services were there to serve -- I think I saw everybody I've ever known show up," McKenzie said. "I think Moore County needs to know how essential it was to have all these pulling together. All the police departments showed up, the S.B.I. too. Nobody was barking at the other one, nobody was trying to take over. Every single one of them was just looking out for this town."
There was plenty of work to go around, too, McKenzie said. There still is.
"A lot of folks were doing a lot of work," he says. "The staff at Pinelake was amazing. Even in the hardest of times, like when we were processing crime scenes -- and you can imagine what was going on before their eyes -- they never let up. They served the meals on time to their residents, reassured them, make them feel safe."
The emergency response machine of Moore County came to full speed quickly, running efficiently and silently at every level, caring for Carthage.
"A lot of people don't realize what happens to make everything come together like this," McKenzie said. "I am only the guy that gets to stand in front of the cameras."
That was his responsibility. That hit McKenzie particularly hard during a communitywide church meeting the night before he flew to New York for an appearance on NBC's Today show with Cpl. Justin Garner, the officer who brought an end to the bloodshed when he shot the alleged assailant, Robert Kenneth Stewart, who had killed seven elderly patients and a nurse.
"We attended the memorial service," McKenzie said. "It was absolutely wonderful and as appropriate as could be done, a great sign of community support. To see everybody from different churches, different congregations, all there for the same reason was very, very appropriate and very healing. It was very healing for me personally to see in their eyes and hear in their voice the appreciation that they had."
McKenzie said he was both amazed and touched. He found he couldn't leave the church for people coming over to thank him.
"For me personally, it was very healing," he said. "I was having a hard time dealing with the weight of responsibility. The lives of those people were ultimately my responsibility. Those were my people, my folks, and I felt -- some way, somehow -- I hadn't done something to protect them better. Those were the demons I was fighting."
McKenzie said he went over in his mind and memory every decision he had made that could have affected what took place at Pinelake, every decision from staffing to schedules.
"Should I have had more people on?" McKenzie asked himself again and again. "Justin was working that day. He got that call. He took the action he took for a reason."
McKenzie said he found his answer in the faith he had known from childhood, and his solace in the enveloping love of the people he dedicated his life to protect and to serve.
"I know, in my faith, what happened," McKenzie said. "I may not know why he was the one who had to respond, but Justin Garner was there for a reason. I know a lot of lives were saved because of him."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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