Try as you may, you can not hide from your history, and you ignore it at your own peril.
But what to do when a moment of your history is a mass shooting? How do Newtown, Parkland, Las Vegas and Orlando mark these events? How do they honor the people who died and those who came to the aid of others?
If you’re Moore County and Carthage on this 10th anniversary of the Pinelake mass shooting, you do nothing. You present no outward recognition of the eight people who lost their lives at Pinelake Health and Rehabilitation on March 29, 2009. You don’t even so much as lower flags to half staff for a day.
You also stay silent on your own native son and former town patrol officer who single-handedly ended North Carolina’s largest mass shooting and saved countless lives from the terror that was Robert Stewart on that Sunday morning.
No community is immune to a mass shooting — we have seen that time after time these past 10 years. But how a community responds after the fact? That says more about it than the event itself.
Are we so desensitized in this age of mass shootings that the slayings of eight defenseless people in a nursing home are not worth honoring? Or are we overly sensitive, afraid to acknowledge a legacy best consigned to forgotten history?
‘Time Just Moves On’
Oh, Carthage considered a memorial service. Earlier this month, a reporter for The Pilot asked the town board before its meeting if it had any plans for the 10th anniversary of the Pinelake shootings and to honor the victims.
Town Mayor Lee McGraw, a Carthage native, said he was unaware of the approaching landmark. And so McGraw began the meeting that evening with a prayer for the dead and their families.
“Time just moves on and we sometimes put bad things behind us to get them out of our memory,” he said during the meeting. “The tragedy touched us very hard. Most of us, one way or another, knew the people or knew the people very well.”
But then when McGraw tried to put together a remembrance? Well, the nursing home, long since renamed Peak Resources, didn’t want to play a role. The service was dropped. In its place: nothing.
And if you go to the little Carthage history museum on Rockingham Street? Nothing.
The town did a service a year after the shooting, the same year Sandhills Community College erected a sculpture also memorializing the event. Since then? Nothing.
We cannot pretend Pinelake didn’t happen. It remains an important piece not just of local history but state history as well. Should we not remember our weaker moments and learn from them?
Instead, if you’re Pinkelake, you change the name of the business. If you’re Moore County, you don’t organize a candlelight remembrance around the SCC sculpture that marks the event and honors three SCC alumni who were involved. If you’re Carthage, you say you’re going to hold a memorial, and then change your mind.
We don’t join the silence. Today, we mark the special lives of Jerry Avant Jr, the nurse who died trying to help hide residents; Louise DeKler, at 98 the nation’s oldest victim of a mass shooting; Lillian Dunn, the retired Robbins textile worker; Tessie Garner, who enjoyed making beautiful Christmas baskets; John Goldston, who had 14 grandchildren; Bessie Hedrick, a Sandhills Community College alumna; Margaret Johnson, who ran a small farm with her family in Silk Hope; Jesse Musser, a retired railroad man.
And we honor Justin Garner, the lone Carthage police officer who exhibited unparalleled bravery that day in confronting Stewart and stopping what is still the state’s deadliest mass shooting.
Remember? We can’t forget.