Hemelt: Violence, headlines hit too close to home

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 9, 2016

We learned on June 29 that 21-year-old Taylor Friloux, a LaPlace resident, was brutally killed while working in Kenner at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.

Seven days later, St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre announced 22-year-old Dejuan Bell of Williamsburg Drive in LaPlace was the parish’s second homicide victim of 2016.

Deputies discovered Bell Wednesday evening slumped over the steering wheel of a vehicle with a gunshot wound in the 8800 block of Richmond Drive in Reserve. Authorities said he died a short time later at the hospital, the result of injuries too severe to treat.

It was the same story for Friloux, a stabbing victim who could not overcome eight wounds — the vicious attacks piercing her chest, neck, liver, windpipe and head. One of the stab wounds struck Friloux’s aorta, and authorities described it as the lethal blow.

The level of violence in the killings still shocks me despite the regularity in which we read similar stories.

The young age of the murder victims saddens me, as it does all of us.

“Why” is an often-repeated question.

Why were these members of our community taken from us at such a young age?

Why were their tormentors so committed to heinous violence that they would be willing to throw their own lives away in the process?

The violence only seems to create more violence, and our own local headlines blur with national stories of police killings, retaliation killings and a growing sense of polarization in communities across the country.

Alton Sterling was shot dead Tuesday outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. Graphic video of the shooting, which was carried out by law enforcement, was shared widely on social media, and a national story ensued.

The NAACP, our governor and the president have all weighed in on the shooting.

A day later, a similar story unfolded outside Minneapolis as Philando Castile was shot and killed by law enforcement during a traffic stop.

The immediate aftermath is captured on camera by his girlfriend, who shared the vehicle where Castile was killed.

The aftermaths involved in both of those killings, like the ones of Friloux and Bell, will play out months and years from now as local agencies, civic groups and federal oversight parse blame and hand out “justice” — what no one on any side of these issues ever feels is administered fairly.

Heck, as I finish this column at 6 a.m. Friday, the tragedies only continue. The violence only mounts.

At least five police officers are dead in Dallas, the result of an unnecessary and disgusting killing spree carried out sniper style during a protest sparked by the killings mentioned above.

The amount of the officers killed marks the deadliest single attack on police since 9/11.

I can’t believe I just typed those words. It’s sad, and I worry we’re becoming numb to it.

The national headlines are impossible for me to ignore because they boil down to local impact. My family and I moved to the River Parishes in the summer of 2014 when I came to work for L’OBSERVATEUR.

We had to move fast because school was approaching and a small rental house in Vacherie was our best option. We’ve been there for two years.

We’re moving to Reserve next week because we feel it is important to live in the same community in which we work.

When I shared this with a newspaper reader who visited the office Wednesday, he expressed concern that I was making the wrong decision, even though he also lives in St. John Parish.

Where do we go when we don’t feel safe in our own community? That is what concerns me as this week of slaughter continues to unfold.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.