In the 30 years I've been speaking publicly, both inside and outside our city, only once have I arrived in the middle of a tragedy. The town was Lumberton, N.C., and the year was 1996. From the time I arrived at the regional airport, I heard, "Lettie Lane is missing."
The description of her was the same whether I spoke to a City Council member, the well-known librarian or a member of her church. "Lettie Lane is a lively, outgoing 85-year-old resident of Lumberton who attends Sunday school and worship every Sunday, often serving as a greeter. On Wednesday evenings, she is back at the church with a pound cake or a broccoli casserole for the covered-dish dinner. Every Tuesday afternoon, she plays bridge with seven women friends as she has done for 25 years.
"Most importantly, unless she is seriously ill, she never misses a day visiting her husband at the nursing home. Though at times he doesn't recognize her and seldom communicates with her, she is still by his side. She had just returned from the visit when the tragedy occurred."
It was 1:30 p.m. when someone remembered seeing Lettie pushing a buggy full of groceries to her car. They overheard her saying, "No thank you, I don't need help in putting my groceries in the car."
That night when the lights didn't come on in Lettie's home and she didn't answer the telephone, her neighbors went into action. First, they did what people in small towns do when there is trouble -- they called the minister. He, along with the police, began to search all the places she was likely to have gone. The police sent out an all-points bulletin that evening. Days later in northern Virginia, an alert gas station attendant spotted Lettie's car when a young couple stopped to fill up with gas.
Because of the continued and increasing violence in our country, I've divided this article into two sections. Next week's article will include the resolution of this case and suggestions about what we can do to lessen the violence.
Nell Mohney may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.