Unless you’re one of those folks who are so cynical that the hardness of your heart can be measured only on the Rockwell scale, you must see the Aaron Schmidt murder conviction last week as unspeakably sad.
I just can’t fathom how tough it would be for one family to lose a 14-year-old daughter, and for another to lose a 15-year-old son.
Schmidt’s murder conviction means, for all practical purposes, his life is as over as that of his victim, Alana Calahan. He’ll likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
Alana’s family certainly must feel twice victimized. After all: They had treated Schmidt like a son, and then he killed their daughter. God bless them.
From an outside perspective, this case is intriguing because of the youth of those involved; that’s what brought the national television cameras here. Yet Columbia County seems to have a tragic history of young killers.
Just a few of them:
• In 1987, Jamie Tankersley, 18, shot and killed Ricky Lavarnway, 24, Timmy Harrell, 22, and Billy Reese, 18, outside a Leah home, and then rolled the car with their bodies inside into the lake. Tankersley is serving life in prison.
• In 1993, Edward Bryant Gillom, 15, took a gun to Harlem High School where he shot two other students, one fatally. He was acquitted, but got five years for taking a gun to school.
• In 1994, Jamie Lee, Joe Kelsey and Geoffrey Payne, all 17, participated in the horrific Martinez murder of 15-year-old Melanie Ritchie. Lee got 10 years; the other two got life in prison.
• In 1995, T.J. Brock, 17, shot and killed his father in their mobile home near Grovetown, and left his decomposing body under a blanket. Brock pled guilty, and got life in prison.
• In 1997, similar to the Schmidt case, Johnathan Dunagan, 15, fired a gun into the head of his friend, 16-year-old Jason Freund, in a “playhouse” behind an Evans home. Initially found guilty of murder, Dunagan’s conviction was reversed on appeal. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter on retrial, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
• In 2002, four teens killed Jack Murray of Evans, burning him to death in the trunk of his car left in a South Carolina forest. Two of them got life in prison here for kidnapping in addition to South Carolina prosecution; two got 10 years in return for cooperating.
More recently, we’ve had the four teens who gunned down a man in his Grovetown trailer while his girlfriend ran away screaming with their infant, and the punks who fired into a crowd at the Belair Conference Center, killing a heroic young man trying to protect bystanders.
It’s hard to grasp such senseless deaths and the wasted youth the killers represent. And like most of us still trying to come to grips with Alana Calahan’s death and Aaron Schmidt’s conviction, it’s even harder to understand.
God help us.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)