For so long, it seemed the best way to deal with April 21, 1972, was to push it from our collective mind.
That horrific afternoon claimed the lives of two Harrisonville police officers and a civilian, just doing his job. Inside Allen Bank, two women survived their physical injuries but will live forever with the terror associated with that moment.
A block west on Pearl Street, Sheriff Bill Gough also suffered gunshot wounds from sucker-punch attack. Finally, a disturbed young man put an end to the nightmare by ending his own life.
But in reality, the nightmare only began in those fateful few moments.
The town endured the awful reality that followed, from laying its own to rest, to recovering from physical and emotional scars – some of which will never heal – to reading the dramatic interpretation of a counterculture-inspired East Coast writer whose prose altered fact liberally to fit his vision of entertainment that would sell on a national stage.
Clearly, there was reason to attempt to leave that awful day behind.
But in the process, we failed to heal completely.
We noticed that in 1997 and took a step in the right direction by dedicating a small park in the most prominent of locations, Mechanic and Independence, to the memories of officers Donald Marler and Francis Wirt, as well as community member and victim Orville Allen. Marler-Wirt-Allen Park is a community treasure, as are the streets named after Marler and Wirt.
That was truly a step in the right direction.
But never have we properly honored these gentlemen for their unwitting sacrifice. For Marler, Allen and Gough it was part of the risk involved with being in law enforcement. They walked the square in a tumultuous time, trying their best to maintain the balance between the Constitutional rights of those who would gather in protest and the basic needs of a healthy, prosperous community. It was utterly thankless, and two of the three paid the ultimate price for the crime of trying to do good.
For Allen, there is no explanation, as is so often the case.
He was engaged in exactly the type of activity that makes a community run, providing a service for its residents in exchange for a fair return. It was the type of activity that has yet to return to the square in full since that fateful day.
There may be many reasons that have nothing to do with our tragedy, but one cannot discount the idea that as a community, we really haven’t healed.
After 40 years, we applaud Police Chief John Hofer’s work in organizing Saturday’s event honoring the victims. We have learned much as a society in the time since 1972, not the least of which is the need to heal while never forgetting.