Fog wrapped around Wise County Friday morning like a ghostly veil.
The misty shroud enveloped tombstones from Oaklawn to Aurora. Smoky tendrils curled from the low, slow, muddy waters of the Trinity’s West Fork and from freshwater springs quietly erupting from rocky outcroppings hidden in the depths of gouged-out earth in the Grasslands.
The fog closed in on all sides – like life sometimes does, limiting options, clouding any visibility past the immediate.
A few days before, on a bright clear Tuesday, when the sun shone like a jewel in an azure sky, life closed in on James Warden.
The 43-year-old Bridgeport man felt all the pressures of life caving in around him. He must have been buried alive in desperation. He allegedly made death threats. The threats were so serious two schools in Decatur’s school district, where his estranged wife works, went into lockdown mode.
Meanwhile, a tactical team closed in on the home where Warden was staying in Bridgeport, holed up with an arsenal of firearms. The Wise County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team and a Texas Ranger were called in to help the Bridgeport Police Department.
Warden allegedly tried to goad police into shooting him by pointing his rifle in the direction he thought the police were, squeezing the trigger several times. His world was closing in, more and more every second. He was prepared for the fog to completely envelop him.
Fortunately, thanks to the negotiating skills of our resident Texas Ranger Jim Holland, coupled with quick response by police and sheriff’s office, the situation ended peacefully… for the moment.
But for how long? How do you protect people who were threatened and still feel unsafe?
Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins made a good point in the wake of Tuesday’s situation. He said he was just as concerned, if not more so, with getting Warden help for his psychological issues or substance abuse problems, as he was with criminal charges.
The criminal justice system is great at tracking down criminals and solving crimes after they occur. It’s a much more difficult process to prevent violent crimes from happening in the first place.
As big as the weapons debate has been in the aftermarket of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., mental health looms just as large. Guns are like drugs. Even if they are made illegal, people can still get them if they really want them. The best way to fight drug abuse is rehabilitation and education. And the best way to fight violent crime related to mental anguish is finding potentially violent offenders and getting them help.
Many times, those who are sick and have potential to wreak mass havoc live in the shadows; they are completely shrouded in the fog. It was certainly too late for the children in Newtown, the moviegoers in Aurora, or the high school students in Littleton.
But when we do have clues – when we have chances to see through the mist and stop something tragic before it happens – we should do everything we can to prevent the ruination of the lives of the suspects and the victims.
It’s got to start with every one of us. If we can see signs of potential violence in our schools, in our families, in our workplaces and in our friendships we have to step up and talk to them, recommend they get help.
Apologizing for them doesn’t help. And it certainly doesn’t lift the fog from their troubled world.