You can feel it. You really can. The freedom to breathe again. Whenever something horrific happens, I often feel like I suck in a deep breath and don't exhale until there is some kind of ending, resolution, or long enough passage of time that I am forced to exhale.
The afternoon breeze today is not so much the clouds giving way to sunny skies as it is the collective sigh of relief from thousands of people who have been hoping and praying that the bloodthirsty Chimera prowling about Kaufman County would not be unstoppable, untouchable, and anonymous forever.
Today, Kaufman County is exhaling. It's not over yet. But we can breathe.
The terror inflicted on officials, their families, and the Kaufman County community cannot be overstated, especially for those of us with close ties to law enforcement. In the beginning, each theory about who would murder ADA Mark Hasse and District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, had its impediments to probability. Could it be a cartel-type revenge for interfering with meth trafficking? Could it have been that disgraced Justice of the Peace who lost the bench last year? Maybe it's that gang of white supremacists who swore bloody repercussions for thirty-something multi-jurisdictional convictions last fall?
The gargantuan horde of investigators was tight lipped and smartly so. The FBI, ATF, US Marshals and Texas Rangers descended on Kaufman County like a swarm of rootin' tootin' locusts and never have I been so glad to see so many suits, badges, and ten gallon hats.
Each theory was ridiculously thin and fantastic but plausible in its own way. But there was no arguing that people were being murdered. Who would have this kind of training and equipment? Who would know where Mark Hasse parked every day and know the best and fastest way to escape downtown Kaufman? Who would be able to put in motion the strategic murders of the McLellands on the weekend that they were expecting Easter company and happened to have put away the guns kept in every single room of the house? And who would be prepared to show up on short notice? Like maybe when the thunder started clapping loud enough to disguise gunshots?
Yeah. We all knew somebody was either close or was watching closely.
Judges, prosecutors, and important elected officials were under tight guard. But the rest of us spoke about the murders privately and in hushed voices. Who was watching? What was the motive? Who might follow us home if they knew we were a county receptionist, court clerk, or had a uniformed officer or public official living in a house that was not being guarded? There was no limit to where our fearful imaginations went.
And, as expected, online comments erupted on posted news articles. Some comments were vicious and said that Kaufman got what it deserves. Some were sympathetic and hopeful. Some were political and made it about gun control. Some said the investigation was going nowhere. I'm guessing that is because the Feds didn't friend them on Facebook, create a Twitter account, or put evidence pics on Instagram.
Shortly after ADA Mark Hasse's death, a friend of mine told me that DA Mike McLelland was certain former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams was behind Hasse's murder. Williams was the guy convicted of stealing computers from the courthouse and using county library funds to supply his own private law office. My friend was close to the McLellands and suggested I review the Eric Williams trial so that I, too, would know what the former Justice of the Peace was capable of.
I was skeptical. I thought my friend was running on raw emotion because she was too close to the situation but I did what she asked. I reviewed the trial. And yeah, Williams had a history of being a mouthy bully but murder? Tough to believe. Even after the McLellands were murdered, I had doubts that Eric Williams would kill three people over two years probation and a $5000 fine. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize he lost a lot more than that. He lost the bench, his reputation, his law practice, his income, his health benefits and retirement benefits and probably his military commission. And, he knows weapons. He has the training. He knows Kaufman County.
Then one afternoon, I saw a video excerpt of Eric Williams being interviewed at his front door. There he was. Blue polo. Giant smirk. Extending his condolences to the McLelland family. Wait. What? A smirk while he was extending condolences? Then it was blah blah blah bringing justice for this incredibly egregious act and he's STILL smirking.
A chill - - a physical chill - - darted up my spine. That cliche exists for a reason, people!
REPORTER: Anything you'd like to tell the community or somebody who might think, you know, this Eric Williams guy, you know, has an ax to grind and this Eric Williams guy might have done this? What would you say?
ERIC WILLIAMS: I would say ask someone who actually knows me from the past and they'll tell you that that's not me.Smirk gone. It's a full blown smile. It had only been FOUR days since the McLellands were found dead and he was smiling while he talked about it. And then I knew. Yeah. He did it. Maybe not alone. But he did it. And, if I knew, I knew the swarm of local, state, and federal investigators knew. They were taking their time amid rumors of white supremacist boogieman, they were tracking down all other leads, and they were arresting anyone and everyone who made a terrorist threat but they knew. They just had a job to do and a method of doing it.
And now, even though formal capitol murder charges still haven't been filed, Eric Williams is all over the news and the evidence is piling up against him so everyone else knows, too. And, the online comments? No change. The story may have changed but the comments from the public are the same.
Meanwhile, the world is still mad and violent. Two explosions just went off at the Boston Marathon finish line and a lot of people are down. I can barely conceive something so horrible and violent. And yet, I can.
Deep breath . . .