While many questions remain to be answered – and some may never be – the identity of the man authorities say shook Tupelo to its core last week is now known, his death a violent end to a heinous crime spree that took a police officer’s life and critically wounded another.
A chapter is over in this tragedy, but it hardly means the pain has subsided.
How should a community respond to such a tragedy? The simple answer: as Tupelo has.
The sheer courage and calm togetherness displayed by slain Sgt. Gale Stauffer’s widow, Beth, at Sunday morning’s news conference announcing the death of her husband’s assailant were deeply moving. So were her words about the support she and her family have felt from the community. “We know we have not been through this alone,” she said.
In tragedies like these, it is essential to look for the elements of redemption. And they are there. Tupelo’s response to the horrible events of Dec. 23 – the community’s outpouring of support for the families of Stauffer and wounded fellow officer Joseph Maher demonstrated in so many ways – is prime among them.
Mayor Jason Shelton has observed that the way the community has come together reflects the essence of the “Tupelo spirit,” and he is right. These last few days have seen Tupelo at its best, in response to the worst. People have come together across lines that so often divide, united in the awareness that they all share a common bond of community.
It’s unfortunate that it can take a tragedy to bring people together. But this tragedy has illuminated what we too often take for granted – that there are men and women who every hour of every day put their lives on the line for the rest of us. That heroism has been demonstrated vividly for all to see.
Months and even years from now, Tupelo needs to remember this time – how it felt to be part of a community that came together with great unity of feeling and purpose. We can remember the sense of gratitude for the officers and the deep hurt we felt, not necessarily because we knew them or their families, but because we knew in a very real sense they were part of us.
Sgt. Stauffer could have no more fitting memorial than if Tupelo used the tragedy of his death to help strengthen for the long term its sense of gratitude, unity and purpose.