From one doorstep to the other, nothing was normal last Monday
How fitting it is that on this early Tuesday morning as I write this, the weather for the first time in many, many weeks is sad, tired, gray and damp. Not raining, really, as that would require actual effort. Just slow, quiet drizzle, like the tears sliding down the cheeks of those gathered outside the Express office last night, as a candlelight vigil formed to remember Leslie Pinkston, who was gunned down as she sat in her car, on the doorstep where we both work.
One of the joys of working at the Express is that I rarely have to report on violence like this. In fact, in 21 years, I can’t recall another shooting in cold blood, in broad daylight, right there on the sidewalk in downtown Winters.
In response to some of my Facebook posts about yesterday’s horror, one person commented, “If you can’t feel safe in downtown Winters, maybe you can’t feel safe anywhere.” I think we all feel that way: This just doesn’t happen here.
The few incidents of gun violence here over the past couple decades have been murder-suicides, from relationships gone sour. Very sour. Toxic, in fact. Thus far, we haven’t experienced random violence of this nature here in Winters. We are far more familiar with the frequent bicycle thefts in the weekly police report, and the irony of all this is that on Monday morning, I was leaving the house early, around 9:30 a.m., and noticed that my old pink bicycle was stolen right off my front porch during the night, while we were sleeping. That’s a rattling enough experience for an average Winters resident. That’s high crime here.
I was stunned and angry, and as I went in to call the police to report the theft, I heard lots of sirens, but figured it was probably a fire because there were so many. When the dispatcher answered, she told me to call back later because the police were very busy at the moment. I told her I work for the local newspaper, and asked what was going on.
“There was a shooting downtown,” she replied.
I asked her for the address, and she said “312 Railroad Avenue, in front of the Winters Express office.”
I hopped into my car and arrived at the scene, which was both deathly still and chaotic. People were gathering, shocked, stunned, some crying. I was floored when I found out who was shot: the girl who works in the adjoining office. Although I didn’t know Leslie Pinkston well, I saw her every morning. We literally worked under the same roof. Our offices share a common wall, and the front doors of the offices, both of which have glass windows, face each other, about four feet apart. One of the first things I saw every morning was Leslie sitting at her desk, often already busy on the phone.
Our building is so small and the walls so thin, I could hear her phone conversations half the time, and often would get irritated because she was so loud and lively and boisterous. Funny how something that irritated you one day is something you will miss the next.
In the midst of the cluster of emergency personnel and vehicles, and a helicopter landing to pick Leslie up, I was trying to get accurate information out to the community as quickly as possible via Facebook, and the information changed from moment to moment.
For much of the time, our office was cordoned off as part of the crime scene, and for much of the morning, I couldn’t get inside and had to rely on my iPhone to text breaking news to Facebook. Sadly, in the midst of a whirlwind of stress and shock, compounded by my fat, clumsy thumbs, situation like this, there were some unfortunate auto-corrects. Thank you for the patience and understanding of those who could read through them and forgave my stumbles. As for those who criticized the very fluid, changing updates riddled with typos and weird auto-corrects, I say this: Tradja places.
Because word spreads like wildfire here, and gossip and rumors even faster, my intent was to inform without spreading panic and to nip any hysterical misinformation in the bud. But communication moves at lightning speed on social media, and I was getting as much information back as I was receiving. The one thing in common: widespread shock and horror.
You’ve heard of “six degrees of separation”? In Winters, there’s one degree of separation, tops. I doubt there’s a person in town who didn’t know a friend or family member of Leslie’s. We’re just that connected here, just that interwoven. You can’t kick one person without another yelling “ouch.”
Another Facebook post in response to Monday’s nightmare was, “Winters puts the ‘unity’ in ‘community’.” What a perfect description of this town. We have our spats and squabbles, but when there’s a crisis, people drop their sticks and stones and pull together.
Winters really is a special place, and up until now, we felt insulated from the horrors of the big, bad world beyond us. The last known shooting in downtown Winters happened in 1913. We learned this week that we are not insulated. Anything can happen in our little town, just like anywhere else.
People used to kid me about our police report, and its preponderance of stolen bicycles — just like the one I was reporting on Monday morning. And I’d always reply, “That’s just the way I like it.” Ditto for the Express. The more boring, the better, as far as I’m concerned. This week’s paper is not one of those nice, boring papers. Please interpret the coverage as evidence of the fact that when anyone is harmed in this town, it matters. Deeply.
My most very sincere condolences to those who knew and loved Leslie Pinkston, particularly her little girl. They say it takes a community to raise a child. It will take a community to comfort one too.