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Deadly Rampage

An evil beyond words robs us all

By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 1998


Not this. Not here.

This is the kind of thing that happens in other places. This is the kind of numbing violence that tears a hole in other communities.

New York, maybe. You can see this happening in New York. Another nut gets his hands on another gun and takes another step off the deep end, and good people die, and you see it plastered all over the tabloids. And you shake your head in sadness.

Detroit, perhaps. You could rationalize this happening in Detroit. A police officer pulls over a strange car in the middle of the night, and the driver has a gun, and the next thing you know, you are hearing the nightly news. And you roll your eyes in horror.

Miami, possibly. You could understand this happening in Miami. Tempers spin out of control, and a madman starts squeezing off rounds, and people are lying on the sidewalk, and in a matter of minutes, there is a CNN special report. And you sigh and wonder where the world is headed.

But not here. Not where we live.

• Carr stayed free by staying invisible
Outpouring of support is overwhelming
Survivors are offered financial aid

Trooper from small town gave life for job he loved
A grandmother grieves for the boy she raised
'Stress' teams offer comfort to officers

How could such a man have such a lethal arsenal?
• An evil beyond words robs us all
Phone calls to gunman raise concerns about media's role

Hometown mourns for trooper
Killing leaves student shaken

Standoff leaves Shell in disarray
Killer's shirt gives cafe unwelcome publicity
Police in Citrus reviewing guidelines after officers' deaths

It should not happen anywhere, of course. But it is a sick world that seems to have no cure, so you protect your heart the best you can. Almost daily, you hear reports of the horror people do, and it affects you a bit, for a minute or two, and then you go back to your day. After all, it is someone else's shame. The blood is on someone else's streets.

Then it happens here, in quiet Tampa Bay. And all the rage and pain and confusion comes spilling out until it leaves you hollow.

It makes no sense. Three good men and an evil one are dead. A child will never grow up. And a community struggles with its emotions. Such is the toll from Hank Earl Carr's savage final hours.

You find yourself driving aimlessly, gripping the steering wheel tightly, thinking of men you never met. Of Rick Childers and Randy Bell and James Crooks. You think of their last, frantic moments of struggle. You think of them leaving for work Tuesday morning, and you wonder if they sang or whistled or told jokes. You think of the plans they made to take wives to dinner or to spend time with their children. And you feel yourself growing angrier. Who the hell was Hank Earl Carr to rob these families of all of that?

A police car drives past. You look into the window and see an officer looking back. You feel something different than you felt the day before. You wish there was something you could say, some symbol you could make, to let the officer know you share his pain.

You find yourself watching television, seeing haunting images of men who no longer live, and you have to remind yourself this is not a Steven Bochco TV series or a Martin Scorcese movie. You see the faces of men unaware of the danger. How could they know? Who the dickens carries a handcuff key around his neck? Who is desperate enough, evil enough, to overcome two armed policemen and take their lives?

Did they make mistakes? Who knows? If so, they paid for them with their lives. Still, you cannot help wondering. Not to lessen the tragedy, but to understand. You want so badly to understand what happened, as if knowing would allow you to somehow rewind the tape and change the outcome.

From all reports, these were exceptional policemen. It bears repeating that Bell once pulled a 64-year-old woman out of a burning building, and Childers once pulled a 17-year-old girl out of a submerged car. Officers such as those are the ones that give a community its security, who allow it to think of itself as peaceful and lazy. We lost something when they died. Frankly, it hurts like hell.

You feel emptiness. You think of a 4-year-old boy, Joey Bennett, who died first. You think of his 5-year-old sister, Kayla, blood on her clothes, and wonder how long she will be cursed by the memory of the day. Then you find yourself looking at your own child and imagine some cockroach with a rifle taking her from you. You feel like holding her.

You feel empathy. You think of crying children and heartbroken widows who are beyond the comfort of words. You think of Bernice Bowen, the girlfriend, who lost a son. And you ache inside.

You feel vindictiveness. In the end, Carr was a coward who turned his own violence on himself. It seems like the easy way out. Carr did not deserve to live, but he didn't deserve to escape with a self-inflicted death, either. He should have had to look into the eyes of those whose tears he caused.

You feel relief a hostage walked away. You feel concern for officers who will put themselves in danger today. You feel shame that a nation may look at our community a bit differently after this.

Most of all, you feel confusion. You think about the sorry life of Hank Earl Carr, wanted in two states, under suspicion of murder, falling through the cracks. You wonder how many other Hank Earl Carrs are out there. Then you feel something else. You feel fear.

How does this happen anywhere? How does it happen here, in the place where we all live because we don't want to live in New York or Detroit or Miami or places where this kind of violence breeds? If one loser such as Carr can rob us of three good men, what is to keep it from happening again?

We have lost something of ourselves today, something innocent, something honorable, something that felt safe. Who the hell was Hank Earl Carr to rob us of all of that?


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