As I write this, a helicopter is hovering above my house in search of a suspect involved in a shooting that left two people injured and one person dead.
A friend and I were just sitting down at the picnic table in my back yard for some evening beverages and lively political discourse when we heard the gunshots. We both thought it sounded like kids having fun with some pre-4th of July fireworks. It never crossed our minds that it might actually be gun play. A few minutes later the sirens started. Moments later, we saw at least a half dozen police cars racing through my neighborhood. Then came the ambulances. We watched the entire aftermath unfold from about a quarter mile away.
According to the Helena Independent Record, "one person is dead, and two people are injured, in a shooting involving at least four juvenile males late this evening."
We heard those gunshots. It sounded like at least 20 of them. We thought they were a round of Black Cats or something. Because, you know, this is Helena Montana. People don't shoot each other in Helena Montana.
Even after the gunshots--and the nearly two hours of extraordinary police activity on the hill across the gulch from my back yard that followed--I never assumed anything terribly serious had happened. I actually said to my friend, "I bet one of those kids didn't toss the M-80 in time." Maybe an accident. Maybe even a horrible accident. But a shooting? Two people injured and one dead? The thought never crossed mind. Not for a second. Not here.
It wasn't until after I was running through the open land behind my house in search of my disobedient dog who'd run off that I realized something was going on. That's when I saw the patrol cars slowly cruising my neighborhood, shining their blazing spotlights into my and my neighbors' yards. That's when I knew something serious had happened.
update: to answer a reader's question, yes, my dog returned from her late-night stroll a minute later.
The irony for me is that my friend and I, both of us having (relatively) recently moved to Helena from Missoula, had earlier been talking about how safe this town is compared to other places we had lived. "Ha" we said, "We'll find out what happened up on the hill this weekend when we read the Helena crime map in the paper!" Yuk, yuk, yuk. Hell, it was just a day or two ago that I was laughing with some friends about the the fact that I all-too-often forget to lock my car door at night. "And I leave my iPod and wallet on the front seat!" I said. Yuk, yuk, yuk.
"The Helena Police Department issued a reverse 911 call to all residents in the area warning them to remain inside and lock their doors," the IR reported.
Because, you know, this is Helena. Some of us are pretty lax about locking our doors most nights.
That helicopter is still hovering above my house, and as long as I hear those blades chopping at the night sky and the sirens running in the the distance I'm going to wonder what the hell is going on. And yeah, I did lock my doors tonight.
But I still plan to walk to work tomorrow. And then I might walk to the coffee shop for my mid-morning espresso fix. After work I'll probably stroll down to the brewery for a pint and say 'hi' to my friends and neighbors. This weekend I'm sure I'll stop down at the farmers market to buy some more starts for my garden. If I get the back wheel fixed on my bike, I might just take a ride up the same gulch that helicopter keeps circling tonight.
Because this is Helena, and that's what we do.
When the events of this evening--which will undoubtedly be headlines for days to come--are over, Helena will go back to being Helena. And Helena, like all of Montana, is still a safe and great place to live.