The news brief that popped up on my infernal cell phone Saturday was chilling -- a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas with confirmed dead, totals unknown at the moment.
This time, I feared it could be hitting close to home.
Donna's sister's son is a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso where he lives with his wife and 5-year-old, cute-as-a-button son.
Donna immediately began calling and texting everyone -- and thankfully everyone was okay. Corey was in Louisiana for training, although he was heading back to Texas soon; his wife and son were in Florida visiting her family.
But it could have been different. They live near the mall where the shooting happened and often shop at the big box store where the gunman carried out his hate-filled manifesto. This time, we could exhale in relief, but so many others could not. Our little family was spared but what about next time?
Here is how 2019 is unfolding by the numbers.
So far there have been at least 251 mass shootings in 2019.
The shooting in Dayton, just 13 hours after the El Paso murders, happened on the 216th day of the year!
So far this year, 520 persons have been killed in mass shootings in these United States, including some of the gunmen.
So far this year, more than 2,000 people have been wounded in these mass shootings. Many of these wounds are life changing.
(Statistics are from the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks such dismal information.)
Eventually, we all are going to be touched -- personally -- by this epidemic of violence that our political leadership simply refuses to even attempt to limit, let alone solve.
Politicians babble, blame others, refuse to look in the mirror or listen to the hate-filled stuff they personally preach -- and the violence goes on and on and on!
For a time, they got by with the rather infantile response that a "good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun."
Well, that was proven inadequate in recent days.
At a garlic festival in California, police managed to confront a shooter in a minute or so, yet still innocent people died. The shooter died, probably from a self-inflicted wound.
In Dayton, Ohio, a bar patron and a police officer managed to take down -- and kill -- a shooter in what police are saying was 20 to 30 seconds after he fired his first shot and killed his first innocent victim.
Twenty or 30 seconds! And yet 9 people died and 26 people were wounded in those seconds.
In El Paso, police officers came running toward the gunfire in seconds -- but the domestic terrorist (a term that fits but which many of our leaders are too timid to use) managed to rip off dozens and dozens of rounds, inflicting carnage on innocent folks, most of whom were just shopping for back-to-school items for their kids.
Imagine this scene: A pretty 25-year-old mother, is cradling her 2-month-old infant in her arms while shopping with her husband when she is spotted by this deranged killer.
Jordan Anchondo does her best to shield her baby with her own body -- and is fatally shot, falling to the ground while protecting the child. She landed on top of the infant who suffered minor injuries from his mom's body.
The husband, Andre, also fell in a hail of bullets -- and died in that store.
As you read this, their three children, once part of a happy family, are orphans!
This is just one of the horror stories of this weekend. A detailed list would take up multiple pages because each death and injury is just as important, just as significant and just as avoidable as these.
And yet our political leaders keep saying the same things, keep blaming others, keep refusing to change the laws to empower the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to investigate domestic terrorism as they do international terrorism and these politicians keep feeding us blatant bullcrap that they have figured out will keep us Americans so polarized and divided that we can't agree on a d@$#%$ed thing!
So, when you next listen to our President, our state's two senators or our U.S. representative (if he ever says anything!), keep in mind that 520 of our neighbors, friends and family have died in 216 days this year.
Just for background, you might find it interesting that U.S. Senator Richard Burr took $6.9 million last year from the NRA, more than any other senator. Just slightly behind, at No. 3 on the list, was Sen. Thom Tillis at $4.4 million.
Decide if what you hear makes sense or if it's just more pointless hot air from public officials who are either gutless -- or, as difficult as it is to comprehend, believe this kind of violence, hatred and racism can further their political ambitions and goals.
In the meantime, keep looking over your shoulder because you never know if the next gunman will be taking aim at you or yours!
You've got to be kidding me!
That was my first reaction to a reader's alert last week after he visited the Franklin County landfill and saw something he didn't believe even as he saw it with his own eyes.
He said he pulled into the landfill and saw a man walking around inside the fence with a long gun (not sure if it was a rifle or a shotgun) which was unusual because the guy wasn't wearing the uniform of a law enforcement officer.
He asked what was going on -- and someone at the landfill simply shrugged and pointed up at a light pole.
Strung up there was a dead buzzard, which apparently had been shot and hung up as a supposed deterrent to other buzzards, which sometimes circle the landfill because so much trash is left uncovered and available as a source of food. It's a buzzard buffet.
First, buzzards are a protected species, as they should be. They are covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that was passed in 1918, more than 100 years ago!
Although commonly called buzzards, the birds seen around here are technically either Turkey Vultures or Black Vultures.
The Turkey Vulture, the one we most often see, has a red head and a face only another buzzard could love!
Much the same is true with the Black Vulture which, not surprisingly, has a black head but is about the same size. And they ain't much prettier, either!
Buzzards -- or vultures -- do far more good than harm, even if they are uglier than a mud fence when you see them up close. They are almost exclusively carrion feeders which devour dead wildlife, which is why you see them along the edge of the highway cleaning up roadkill. Of course, when you see them airborne, maybe catching a thermal and riding the wind, they are impressive creatures which can effortlessly do something no human can ever hope to do without help from a machine!
By the way, killing a vulture is a fairly serious offense. Killing a Turkey Vulture is punishable by a $1,500 fine and six months in jail while killing a Black Vulture is punishable by a $15,000 fine and six months in jail.
Granted, circling vultures can be rather disconcerting and if they decide to roost on a rooftop, they can do some damage. From time to time, we'll find one or two perched on our chimneys which rise several feet above the rooftop but they are usually pretty skiddish and fly off when they see us.
They do provide me with some incentive when I'm outside working, however. Looking skyward to see several circling vultures warns me that my movements have slowed to the point the birds must think I'm about to keel over and become lunch.
Being buzzard bait isn't a great goal so I either try to get a bit more active or head for the shower and a nap. (The latter is best!)
Seriously, vultures or buzzards can sometimes be a problem as they were a year or so ago in the Nash County town of Battleboro. Town leaders tried many deterrents short of illegally killing the birds and eventually the vultures moved on.
The most-recommended deterrent to vultures is to get a taxidermist to put together a "bird effigy" (a fake dead bird) and hang it up to discourage other buzzards.
Sometimes that works, sometimes not.
But maybe the county first ought to try covering its garbage piles and dumpsters to make them as inaccessible to buzzards as possible.
In other words, close the buzzard buffet!
The county is in the garbage business -- and it should know how to operate it without breaking federal law!
But the story didn't end there. My source said he watched the armed man start walking down toward the back of the landfill where, surprise, there are lots of feral cats which also dine on the uncovered garbage.
My source said he asked if they were planning to begin shooting cats as well but all he got in response was a shrug and a strange expression (of a man caught?).
My source left -- and a short time later I high-tailed it to the landfill to check things out for myself.
The evidence of what I found accompanies this column, grim as it may be. No one with a gun was around but a dead vulture was still hanging over the dumpsters, one of at least three buzzards hanging from poles around the facility.
The cat story is troubling on several levels, although most of us country folk realize that feral cats can be a serious problem where wildlife, especially songbirds, are concerned. But the cats at the landfill are largely confined inside a fenced area so wildlife isn't a major issue.
But having someone shooting around the landfill and dumpster area, which is a busy place with cars and trucks arriving and departing by the minute, probably isn't the safest idea.
Besides, our tax dollars pay for a county animal control facility that uses traps and can humanely euthenize unwanted animals which would be a much safer approach if cats are a problem.
While writing this column last Friday, a news brief hit my computer and it conjured up some unpleasant memories of something that happened exactly 40 years ago.
At the time, I was a copy editor working in Canton, Ohio on a good-sized daily paper. That day, I was assigned to work the "slot" in the copy desk, which, in my opinion, was the best job ever because you are right in the middle of all the action, directing reporters, calling the shots about what gets covered and making all the critical news decisions for the next edition.
The reason a young, green guy was in that position was simple: It was the middle of summer which is usually the doldrums of the news business, and it was just a few days after the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Weekend, which draws tens of thousands of people to that city for a week-long celebration.
That year, both Johnny Unitas and Dick Butkus were among those inducted and it was an especially exciting year! But it also meant that everyone at the paper had worked a lot of overtime, especially the sports guys, and anyone who could swing it was grabbing a few days vacation before things cranked back up after Labor Day.
As I recall, it was a slow shift -- until a radio call went out to emergency responders saying there was a plane crash at Akron-Canton Airport. Because that airport handled commercial flights, we immediately began paying close attention, fearing the worst.
Soon, the radio said the crash involved a small, private jet -- and there was smoke rising from the crash scene.
Back in 1979, private jets weren't as common as they are today -- and they aren't common today.
I immediately rounded up a couple of reporters and a photographer and sent them to the crash site, and was glad for that quick decision when the tail number of the crashed jet went out over the radio -- N15NY.
In that instant, some of our sportswriters noted that the jet was owned -- and likely piloted by Thurman Munson -- a local boy who had risen to fame and fortune as a catcher for the New York Yankees. (Munson wore number 15 for the Yankees and managed to use that same number on his plane.)
Munson was from Stark County -- and he was a local hero on his way to becoming a baseball legend.
In a matter of a few short hours, we pieced together a fairly comprehensive story and added photos telling the tragic story of a plane crash that probably should never have happened.
What we learned at the time was that Munson was at the controls of a Cessna Citation turbojet he had recently purchased for $1.2 million -- and was not properly trained to fly. But with the confidence of a professional athlete and with just over a year's experience of being a private pilot in propeller-driven planes, Munson figured he could handle the complex, powerful aircraft.
He took along two friends that day, David Hall and Jerry Anderson, and Munson was practicing "touch and go" landings at the airport. Air traffic control directed him into a wide right turn to line up with one of the runways, it was learned later, but as the plane descended, things started to go haywire.
Later analysis by the FAA indicated that Munson failed to deploy the landing gear at the proper time -- and when he finally did, the drag caused the aircraft to slow to nearly stall speed. He never lowered the flaps which would have given the plane extra lift, according to the accident report.
Apparently, Munson hit the throttle of the powerful aircraft and everything went wrong. The plane clipped some trees and slammed into the ground about a 900 feet short of the runway, leaking fuel and smoking.
Both Hall and Anderson, although injured, were able to move, but Munson, who had apparently neglected to fasten his shoulder harness, was slammed forward with such force that it broke his neck. He was unable to move, probably paralyzed.
As Munson pleaded for help, the fuel ignited -- forcing both Hall and Anderson to flee but Munson perished, probably from asphyxiation.
The Yankee legend, who was both a friend and teammate of Reggie Jackson, and was playing for baseball legend and coach Yogi Berra, was dead at age 32.
All of Canton and the nation were shocked -- and if you're a baseball fan, especially if you're a Yankees fan, that sudden loss of a hero of the diamond still resonates.
As for me, I can't believe it's been 40 years!
But it's August, so go enjoy these fleeting days of summer before the kids go back to school and football season kicks off again.
Pictured (Above): A DETERRENT? This is one of the vultures that was strung up last week at the Franklin County landfill, apparently in an effort to keep other such birds away from what amounts to a "buzzard buffet" at the facility.