Yelling Distance: Thoughts on what happened to Hailey

Posted: February 23rd, 2014 | Filed under: life | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.. -John 14:27 ESV

… Jesus, please be with Hailey’s mommy.

It’s late and I should be asleep, but I have a lot of questions.

About 8 miles from where I live, a ten-year-old little girl was walking home from a friend’s house. Jean shorts and purple sandals on the first nice day of the year. She didn’t know about the tan truck that was circling her neighborhood. The neighbors saw him, though.

He pulled over when he spotted her. “Where is Springfield Street?”

I don’t think there is a Springfield Street.

She knew enough to ignore him.

He opened his door. “Hey, come here a minute.”

Children comply before they think. Two steps was all he needed.

The neighbor’s said he threw her over his body and into the passenger seat like a “rag doll”.

The neighbor took off running after them while his wife called the cops. A kid followed him in his car but couldn’t keep up.

He drove the five miles to his house in rush hour traffic and nobody caught him. His house– where he had a three-ring binder of perversion. Abused children in photographs.

He was arrested three hours later.

Three hours has to be a record, but he still had time to tie the arms of a child who couldn’t say her “r’s”. He put a bullet in the base of her skull, got rid of his bedding, divided her body between two trash bags, and put them in a rubber storage tote. He bleached his trail and left to go to the store. He was pulling into his driveway with duct tape in his hands when they caught him.

His behavior is a mix of a complete disregard for getting caught followed by bleach-scented self-preservation.

How can someone like this stay off the radar and right under our noses? How does someone go from “respected football coach” to buying that particular roll of duct tape on a Tuesday evening? The unspeakable in between…

Those aren’t really my questions though.

In times like these, we try to find some way to sleep at night. We try to find a piece of good to grab. Mine: She didn’t suffer for a long time. But what breaks me is “what’s a long time when you’re being tortured?”  He’s not out there anymore. But, it confuses me that he was out there all along and we didn’t know it. Who else is out there?

Where I feel helpless and afraid is that this man did this in broad daylight in the front yard of people who were watching. It was so blatant that they had a hard time wrapping their minds around what they just witnessed. They yelled, memorized his license plate, called 911, chased him on foot and another in his car; and none of that detoured him. What chills me is that he was in police custody three hours later and she was already in two trash bags.

I can’t think of anything anyone could have done better. Except, maybe, not letting the 10-year-old walk around the block…like she’s done several times before. …Like I let my kids do all the time. I call the distance I allow “yelling distance”.

When things happen in other parts of the country, I remark at the terribleness of it all, then reiterate that I refuse to live my life in fear. This happened in my community. I can actually feel the space she left. I didn’t even know her.

I started writing this a few nights ago, but never finished it. I can feel myself moving forward now. There is a point when someone can become morbid, so you have to know when to put the symbols away.

Last night about 6,000 people were expected to march in a city-wide candle light vigil, but 10,000 showed up. That’s warming. I didn’t go, but that’s not typically how I deal.

I don’t know what my questions are, really. I don’t think anything could have been done any differently and that creates the fear that I’m left with. This is the part of life where I wish legalism worked. You know, where you can do everything right an nothing bad will happen to you? But I can’t change my beliefs so that they offer something that makes me feel more secure.

I have to get my security from something else. I have to define security. I have to think about what I’m trying to keep secure.

I have to trust in the middle of the scariest insecurity. It’s not a trust that God won’t allow pain to blister me. That’s not how it works. But trust that He’s still God no matter what.

I prayed for Hailey before I knew her name. She was just an Amber Alert with a vehicle description. My girls and I prayed for her when they went to sleep that night. I had no idea that she was already gone. But, I wonder, did God answer our prayers? The man who did this was captured in record time. He’s not out there haunting the sunny days, neighborhood sidewalks, and mindless wanders in our daughter’s sandals. The evidence against him is such that I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him ever again.

See? I’m grasping for the type of hope that allows me to sleep at night, to send my girls to school, and to let them wander within yelling distance.

I don’t know why God allows awful things to happen. Please don’t go to the canned expression that “we live in a depraved world”. We live in a redeemed world full of damaged people. Bad things happen because people are damaged. I’m not trying to push grace for the man in the tan truck. We’re humans with limits and I’m feeling my own limits.

“In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” -Jesus in John 16:33 MSG

I wonder about something though. Jesus said he became our sin. He assumed our sin like it was His. The stuff like the man driving up and down somebody else’s neighborhood looking for somebody else’s baby… Did he know what he was buying those trash bags for? Police found “empty bottles of bleach”. Bottles. Did the Roman soldiers feel the disgust for Jesus that we feel for the man who bought bottles of bleach and trash bags? Did they see the man when they looked at Jesus?

I don’t even know what I’m getting at. I’m just thinking: People have formed an angry social-media mob. They want a chance to be alone with this man so that they can deliver their own form of retribution. I get it. Clouded by anger and fear and a need for justice… I totally get it. Jesus says that He took on the sin of this man. An angry mob formed with His name mixed in spit on their lips. They had their way all the way until the end.

I’m wondering, was that enough? …I’m not really looking for your answer. Just think about whether your faith works in situations like this. As a Christian and as an advocate for unchurched and undomesticated grace, I inevitably think about this stuff. This is where I walk. Is all this- grace, mercy, forgiveness, …-is it real? I have no doubt that it is, but I thank God for the distance that exists between this tragedy and my own sidewalk.

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth. Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again: Stay with God. – Psalm 13-14 MSG

I’m not sure that I said anything worthwhile here. I’m just processing.

I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to question the grace that saved me. If it’s not enough for the worst, then where is the line?

Hailey Owens

A candle lit march in memory of Hailey. February 22, 2014.




3 Comments on “Yelling Distance: Thoughts on what happened to Hailey”

  1. 1 Jenny said at 1:31 pm on February 24th, 2014:

    This post made me cry. The story is heartbreaking and it grieves me. But the part that touched me most was the word picture of Jesus on the cross in the end. The anger and disgust that I felt for the man who did this is what those who crucified Jesus felt about Him. It put Into perspective how much sin Jesus took upon himself that day. He took the unspeakable sins that man commited and wore them up on the cross and paid for them. And the shocking part is that it was out of love. Not duty. But love.
    Thank you for the post. It was a blessing today.

  2. 2 serenawoods said at 2:22 pm on February 24th, 2014:

    Thanks, Jenny., for understanding where the finger was pointing. The cross.

  3. 3 @wendycwood said at 2:54 pm on February 24th, 2014:

    I totally understand your thought process here. It's a very conflicting feeling to not have such emotional rage towards "bad people" when you've experienced – and have grasped upon the fact you have experienced – the depths of God's grace. When we realize our unthankfulness at times before we received Christ is the same in God's eyes as what that man done to that precious child. That if it was us or him, alone, Christ would have given up His life for either.

    I've been having a conversation with someone online who hasn't grasped grace yet. It's mindboggling to think a year ago, before reading your book, how I used to rank sin and not appreciate grace for everything it is.
    My recent post Women and the Identity Crisis

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