In the Dark

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By Wendy Hodge

My daughter is a junior at Auburn University. She is young and beautiful and sweet. And she is at risk because there are people in this world who are living, breathing, walking nightmares.
They prowl city streets. Not just big city streets. They prowl our streets. My daughter sent me this text today:
“You know that convenience store where Aniah Blanchard was last seen? I go in there all the time. That could have been me, Mom.”
I sat at my desk and let that sink in, and the pit of my stomach knotted up with fear. The kind of fear that makes breathing almost impossible. I could picture her putting gas in her Nissan and buying a Kit Kat and never coming home again. And that few moments was but an infinitesimal glimpse of what Aniah’s parents are living with every single moment of their days.
Aniah Blanchard. Her face is on websites and billboards. Her story is on everyone’s lips. And her name has been uttered in prayer by people who never knew her but who have waited and hoped for her safe return. She is a part of our community. She is a daughter and a sister and a friend and a student. And she is a lifetime of memories and stories and smiles that only her family can measure.
And now we know who took her away. He has a name, but I will not speak it here. Not in the same space as Aniah’s name. We’ve seen his face. We’ve looked into those eyes. We’ve read his rap sheet – the list of evil that is his history. And now the noise is deafening as we all try to make sense of how and why. Conversations at work and around weekend bonfires and during football games has centered around what has happened and what is to come.
Please do me this courtesy: I don’t want to hear about his disadvantaged childhood. I don’t want to hear about his socioeconomic status or his financial hardships. I don’t want to hear about his political relevance or the color of his skin. And I certainly don’t want to hear how the system failed him. What I do want to hear is that he will finally be held responsible, completely and solely responsible, for the unimaginable things he has done. He has stolen an irreplaceable life. He has gutted his victim’s families as surely as if he held a knife to their hearts. He has taken the emotions of our entire state and turned them inside out. He has sparked fear and worry and dread. and now it is time for anger.
But make no mistake – my anger begins and ends with the soulless individual who made decision after decision to show no mercy, to spread evil at will, and to disregard other people’s lives as if they meant nothing. Did the adults in this criminal’s life fail him when he was young?
Maybe. I have no idea. Is our system broken? Yes, it is. How many times should a person be allowed to attempt to harm another person before they are locked away until and unless a trial proves them innocent. The logical answer is clear. But our country doesn’t work that way. And the consequences are devastating.
However, let’s not forget the reality. Let’s not skim over where the blame lies. This sorry excuse for a human being is an adult and has been for years. He has had free will to do good or to do evil. And he has chosen evil every step of the way.
People will speak of compassion and forgiveness, as they should. But let’s not make the mistake of confusing compassion for a lack of consequences. Let’s not assume forgiveness means assigning blame to others for the deeds this man’s hands have done.
There is a place for living, walking, breathing nightmares – locked away from the light and from every other living person. Let’s put this man there and leave him to find his redemption in the dark.
Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled “A Word or Ten,” which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.

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