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Saturday, May 18, 2024

A murder at Weed Store pierces pastoral veil

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There was an earnest effort to bring life back to normal in Weed, N.M., yesterday when The Weed Store reopened at 7:30 a.m. but the daily hum and rattle of the tiny hamlet population – between 65 and 70 people strong – was jarred a week ago in a way that can alter community life forever – or at least leave a deep wound in its collective memory.

The store, which is somewhat of touchstone in the small town, sells gasoline and a few staples for the locals and for the cowboys, hunters, hikers, and local families who pass through under the gaze of the Sacramento Mountains in the Tularosa Basin and surrounded by the Lincoln National Forest.

One week ago, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, the gentle rhythm of life in Weed came to an abrupt halt when a young mother, Laura McCormick, 34, was shot to death while she worked the counter at the Weed Store.

In a bitter irony, the town is actually named for William H. Weed who opened a store there after its founding in 1884 by George and Elizabeth Lewis.

An apparent drifter who had at one time lived in nearby Bent, N.M., Joseph Sanders, 52, at his capture later the day of the shooting was charged with first-degree murder, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence.

Sanders had a preliminary hearing on Tuesday in Alamogordo District Court before Judge John P. Sugg. No trial date has been set.

The fatal shooting of Laura McCormick is not supposed to happen among the serenity and tranquility in a place such as Weed.

The cloud of violence hangs everywhere these days, most horrifyingly in the Ukraine and Israel, where wars rage and the inhumanity of battle resounds. At home, random acts of shootings and stabbings often dominate the news and are baffling but rare in a small town.

It’s natural to watch, read, and hear about this violence and begin to wonder how to find a sanctuary away from the din of killing and the thousands dying?

Escaping to the wilds of country life and migrating to towns and cities that are small and close-knit and where family life and family values abound beckons many of us. Once living in such a place – what we believe is a safe haven – we can find parades and a strong PTA in the schools, children on bicycles or even horseback. There will be 4-H clubs, Little League, and Fourth of July celebrations, high school sports and homecomings. Added as a bonus, if you find the right town, the air will be cleaner and after you have put the children to bed, you can step outside and see a full galaxy of stars illuminating a peaceful sky and quiet night.

In the morning you may go for a mind-cleansing hike. If anything is shot in these communities, it’s a deer or an elk.

But those dreams crumble when violence descends like a plague of locusts on small, peaceful small-town and country life.

Last week was one of those nightmares for those in this normally quiet corner of New Mexico.

Back in Artesia, another small “Andy of Mayberry” kind of city, in an apparent domestic dispute, one man shot another to death in the parking lot of the Public Safety Complex in full view of family members, some young children. Then the police shot and wounded the shooter.

And all before breakfast.

But more shocking was the terrifying incident that brought urban violence to the tiny mountain town of Weed.

It’s in Otero County and only one person from there has attained national fame. His name was Glenn Strange, an actor who was in hundreds of films we once called “Westerns.” He was a bartender in the television series “Gunsmoke,” also appearing as Frankenstein in films.

That was fictional stuff with Strange. A real-life monster showed up on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 10, when the young mother of two and also a stepmother, McCormick, was gunned down for no apparent motive.

Social media photos show a smiling, innocent-looking blonde and blue-eyed young woman in the full spring of life.

The accused shooter, Sanders has been identified as living in nearby Bent, N.M., but folks there say he has not resided in Bent for years, although some locals report seeing him in the area recently.

The gunshot that rang out in the late afternoon at the Weed Store not only ended a life, it shattered the calm and peace of a sanctuary-like hamlet in a quiet mountain town but also made us all aware it seems we are not safe anywhere these days.

New Mexico ranks seventh nationwide in gun homicides. Every year an average of 186 New Mexicans die as a result of gun homicides. Another average of 194 persons are wounded.

No one would have expected Laura McCormick to add to those statistics.

But now she is one of victims of violence on the rise across the country.

Her murder gives rise to the question of how we respond as a nation and as a state to the increasing rise of deadly violence? As surely as there exists a remote and peaceful place of refuge for all of us, then surely, we must seek and find answers.

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