There was a line of police cars just down the street when my daughter and I headed out late Friday morning.
“I wonder what’s going on,” she commented.
We took our usual route, walking our dogs past the softball diamond and tennis courts, through the playground of the abandoned elementary school, across the basketball court, through the woods and back.
As we were nearing home a news truck drove past.
The hound was busy sniffing the base of a mailbox so my daughter and the beagle were several feet ahead when the truck stopped and the reporter rolled down his window.
I caught up just as their conversation ended.
“What did he say?,” I asked as they drove off. “What’s going on?”
“He said, ‘It’s the craziest thing, isn’t it?’ I told him I didn’t know what was going on, that I saw the police cars when I headed out to take my dogs for a walk and wondered what had happened. He looked stunned and said, ‘You didn’t hear about the car and the dead body?’ He looked like he was about to say more and then he just said I have an awesome beagle.”
“How would I have heard?”
Indeed, cocooned in our warm little nest there on the cul de sac, we were completely oblivious.
As soon as we were back in the house, my daughter googled.
At about 1:30 am a neighbor reported a car on fire behind the elementary school. When the firetrucks arrived the car was completely engulfed in flames. It wasn’t until the flames were extinguished that they discovered the remains of a woman.
The police followed tire tracks from the school yard to the house down the street, to the white house with the blue shutters.
My daughter looked up from her computer, “How dumb do you have to be to kill someone and leave the body and the car practically in your backyard?”
Two young men – a nineteen year old who lives in the blue shuttered house, and an eighteen year old who lives in Detroit – were taken in for questioning. The house was being searched.
“Perhaps you can get away with not covering your tracks in Detroit because there is so much crime there,” I replied, “but these are the ‘burbs.”
In the brief online clip, the reporter mentioned that the police knew the identity of the victim, confirmed by dental records, but they hadn’t released her name. He said she lived down the street from the white house.
Information was sparse: She had a child, a neighbor told the reporter she often sat in her car listening to the radio, she might have been ambushed…
We tried to figure out who she might be. We tried to figure out a motive. Why was a mother out in her car listening to the radio at 1 am? Was it random? Was she ambushed? Was it safe for me to walk the dogs alone?
I took a picture of the basketball court back in November when I was walking the beagle.
The leaves are off the trees now and they are off the court, too. When my daughter, the hound, the beagle and I walked across it Friday morning, we had no idea a car and a body were ablaze upon it just 10 hours earlier.
We hadn’t noticed the charred spot.
But when the hub, my daughter, the beagle, the hound and I walked through Saturday morning, we looked. And there it was. No sign anything had happened there except for the charred blacktop.
A police officer walked toward us on our return loop. He said he hadn’t read the report, didn’t know the details so he could walk the grounds with fresh eyes.
I asked why there wasn’t more information being reported. He said they don’t want future jurors to have preconceived notions when the case goes to trial. I understand that.
“It would be nice, though,” I said, “to know whether there is a killer loose in the neighborhood and whether we are safe.”
“We’re pretty certain we have the killer in custody,” he said, “but there are still unanswered questions.”
The victim’s identity was released Saturday evening, along with a picture.
The picture looked like a mug shot.
An autopsy revealed that she died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Once her identity was known, comments on the news article painted a picture of a drug user who owed a lot of people a lot of money.
There was speculation that she couldn’t pay her dealer and he shot her to send a message. An eighteen year old shot her to send a message.
This is the sort of speculation and preconceived notions that I’m sure the police wanted to avoid.
But it is a relief to know that it probably wasn’t random.
We won’t know the facts until the trial, but whether she was a junkie going out to her car to shoot up or a mom going to her car for a few minutes of peace and quiet, it’s equally awful. Whether she was ambushed by random teenagers or shot in the abdomen by her dealer it’s equally awful.
It’s awful for the seven year old who no longer has a mom. Right before Christmas.
It’s an awful emptiness of soul that allows an eighteen year old to pull a trigger, take a life, burn a body, and perhaps throw the murder weapon into a nearby lake.
There is an outstanding warrant for the eighteen-year-old’s arrest in Detroit for a carjacking. Thank God there is that to hold him on.
I think about the bright, sweet, hopeful faces of the inner city boys I’ve met over the years – as a camp counselor, social worker, volunteer tutor, Bible teacher – and I wonder at what point those innocent six, seven, eight, nine, ten year old boys become boys capable of drug dealing and carjacking and killing at eighteen.
Lord have mercy.