Trial reveals deep wound tragedy left on community

Published 12:01 pm Friday, October 13, 2017

Trial reveals deep wound tragedy left on community

That the murder of Jessica Chambers was almost three years ago has allowed time to put the heinous crime into a perspective that has grown more distant for most of us.

During the first days of this week’s trial of the man accused of her murder we have heard from some of the people — volunteer firefighters, emergency medical responders, law enforcement, friends and family among them — for whom the memory looms yet large and present.

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We have been reminded of this as one firefighter after another has struggled through quivering lips and breaking voice to describe what they saw that night on Herron Road when a burning, dying girl emerged from what they had thought the scene of a routine car fire.

We have been reminded of this as around the courtroom people daubed at tears and family members wept and covered their eyes during graphic descriptions.

These testimonies have also, somewhat incidentally, revealed the level of competence that volunteers and paid first responders rose to as they gained control in the initial, overwhelming chaos. They immediately began to treat the victim for shock even while in their own versions of shock, rendering initial first aid that evolved into more sophisticated treatment as an ambulance arrived, making photos, extinguishing the fire, organizing transport and establishing a helicopter landing zone at the nearest practical location.

All this, especially during the early minutes, while they watched apprehensively over their shoulders the dense pine woods that surrounded them, wondering if the person responsible for the heartless act that brought the victim before them might yet be lurking there. Who among us, during the many months that have followed, has driven past that site and not felt a dark shiver from the memory at what occurred?

Unfolding in the courtroom this week has been revelation of the community impact the crime left on the many people who were closely involved — life-altering collateral damage that extends well beyond family and close friends.

When one first responder, shown enlargements of photos made at the scene of the burned victim, was asked if he had seen the photos before, he replied: “I see it every morning and every night.”

Jurors will have a difficult decision after all they have heard witnesses testify, viewed evidence and listened to closing arguments.

But the sliver of silver lining that has emerged from the trial thus far is that the community has been made more aware of the mental anguish that habitually under-appreciated first responders have suffered for having been promptly on the scene that night.