Thursday, September 18, 2003

Dyersburg: The Aftermath

Normal blogging will resume on Friday afternoon, but today I'd like to devote to wrapping up last night's big story.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal surprisingly only has a single, bare story this morning. It contains little that wasn't mentioned below or isn't available from other media sources, including a comment by a family member that Kilpatrick suffered from bi-polar disorder (manic-depression, in the old term). And it wasn't written by a regular news reporter, but feature wanna-be Bartholomew Sullivan. I will allow them the possibility that the story wrapped too late last night for much to be written, and they are spending Thursday researching and interviewing before tackling more stories. Still, it's very nearly inexcusable for the Mid-South's "newspaper of record" to be this off-handed. Tomorrow's paper will tell the tale.

The Dyersburg State-Gazette has a full-front page, three-photo splash, as this is the biggest thing to hit that community in a while. They have a 1996 high school photo that makes him look much better than the crime photo most venues are using. The photo says "1999" but this appears to be a typo, as he's a 1996 graduate of Dyersburg High School.

Memphis media outlets have been sloppy in reporting how shots got started, implying it was Kilpatrick firing wildly into the hostages, but this story clears up that misrepresentation by making clear he shot twice in warning. One television station last night (I can't recall which today) said that one hostage used some confusion to escape, which set off Kilpatrick who fired two warning shots to the remaining hostages to make clear his threat.

Read this:
Lisa McDowell, DPD public information officer, said one student who was held hostage fled from the administration building immediately before shots from the assailant were heard. Those actions, according to authorities, may have prompted Kilpatrick to begin the subsequent shoot-off.

“I grabbed her and put in her in the car,” said McDowell. “Then I heard the shots fired.”
While I understand the visceral desire to live, I also can't help but think that this unnamed woman sparked off the final confrontation. What guilt to live with.

The State-Gazette also addresses reasons for the incident:
Questions remain as to why Kilpatrick chose the DSCC classroom; however, the assailant’s uncle, Milton Burns II, told the State Gazette he had applied and was ultimately rejected for financial aid at the institution shortly before he took the classroom hostage.

Relatives also believe a history of mental illness, along with a lack of medication for the ailment, may explain the man’s actions.

“He is a manic depressive,” said Carolyn Reed, Kilpatrick’s cousin. “He has not been able to take his medication for nearly two years.”
So, there you go. FOX13 in Memphis tonight said that he was said to have blamed the State of Tennessee's government for his being denied aid, and may have conflated that with DCSS. That would explain why he went to the administration building on campus -- Eller Building.

The other S-G story has more on the families of the hostages and a bit more on Kilpatrick. It also provides more detail on what was transpiring inside the classroom. One passage stands out:
According to John's father, Harold, who spoke to his son in the emergency room following the fatal shootout, Kilpatrick was violent at this time.

"At first, he was throwing chairs around and behaving erratically," Harold said.
That was early in the incident. It also squares with the FOX13 interviews with his fiance, Jamaica Lemons, (whom I misidentified last night) who told tales of his violent nature. These included running over her with a car, knife attacks, and trying to run her off the road with his car when she had young children in hers. She implied that a very bad childhood had left him very angry and that he'd never learned to cope with the anger nor deal with it.

The S-G stories answer why he left Memphis for Dyersburg. He was apparently from the region and had family roots there still. He seems to have moved to Memphis out of high school and lived here for a few years. Angry and panicked after missing his court appearance and now with five felony warrants for his arrest, it seems believable that he'd go to a place of safety for himself.

When I first scanned the early morning Memphis news shows Thursday, two things stood out. During the hostage taking, a couple of television stations mentioned Kilpatrick's "lengthy criminal history." That's a quote from one station. No one this morning, or this evening, detailed that history. I'm hoping the Commercial Appeal will see fit to print it.

The other thing was a comment by a WMC, Channel Five, on-the-scene reporter, Brooke Sanders, that Kilpatrick's body was still in the classroom where he fell. At six AM, nearly seven hours after his death! A FOX13 reporter also mentioned that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had only just arrived on the scene to begin the investigation. If true, this is shocking. Where were they last night and what took them so long to arrive? This point demands follow up.

One other thing: flash or concussion grenades were used when the police stormed the room, as was documented by ABC24 cameras. No mention was made of the effect these might have had on Kilpatrick or the hostages when police entered the classroom. Stunned, frightened people might have been staggering around, possibly into the line of police fire. There is still no word today on who actually shot the two hostages who were wounded, one critically enough to be flown by helicopter to Memphis.

Last question is about Kilpatrick's mental health. His fiance was surprised he was out on the streets. She apparently had expected him to be in a facility, undergoing treatment. FOX13 alluded to a mental exam as part of the five charges that were pending on him. There are dribs and drabs being let out, but no effort is being made to really get clarity here. Confidentiality laws play a part in researching this kind of information, but his family seems to be voluble on the topic.

As it stands, there's a nebulous, sensical timeline out there. To casual news watchers, it just makes enough sense in a sad way. But there are some gaps in history, motivation and events that need to be filled. I'll be watching to see who, if anyone, fills them in.

Again, I must commend the Dyersburg police for their conduct. Kilpatrick left behind a note that police say that made clear Kilpatrick intended to kill people. They had to take that threat very seriously. Chief of Police Bobby Williamson gave his officers clear instructions, including to storm the classroom if shots were heard, while still making good-faith efforts to keep negotiations open. He doesn't appear to have done anything to provoke Kilpatrick, nor to have mounted ill-conceived operations behind his back. The whole of the Dyersburg Police Department needs to be properly thanked.

One last observation. Hostage situations unfortunately arise in America all the time and make the news, too. Remember a few months ago, the guy who walked into the Mississippi factory and killed all his coworkers? While Memphis and Mid-South media seem to have been on the story to varying degrees (ABC24 going wall-to-wall late in the evening. WREC, Channel Three not so much, not even interrupting prime time.) the story doesn't seem to have gotten much of a national blip. It rated a page three, two-paragraph blurb in USAToday this morning. But none of the national morning shows seem to have taken it up.

Why? Well, for one thing there was Hurricane Isabel making landfall and the major nets having a significant investment in people and equipment in that story. Just as the Summerstorm of 2003 got overshadowed by the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons on July 22, while the earlier Jackson tornado, with its shocking destruction, was part of a larger story on widespread damage from that night already being covered. It's just the luck of timing.

As I said, I feel a certain amount of sadness for Kilpatrick. It appears he had a nasty, brutish, short, angry and confused life. I don't absolve him of his actions and their consequences, but I do grieve that he seems to have had little help or support in his abbrieviated journey. Go back to the State-Gazette story and look again at the face in the high school picture.

He was, as they say, someone's son, brother, friend. His life derailed early, it seems, and he pinballed around until he landed at Dyersburg State Community College. Now his game's over.

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