Shooting sprees, and it’s not even July.

I’ve been trying to carve out time to blog for days now. I’m swamped designing an online course. 

When I finally got a few minutes to write today, I realized I can’t very well post anything and not mention this story about a couple who were shot during their wedding ceremony just north of my hometown of Dover, Arkansas. 

The rumor I heard was that the shooter just got back from Iraq. I don’t know how much of that is true, cause it came directly from that juicy Dover gossip line. This got me thinking about my hometown. It got  me thinking about violence. 

Then I started thinking about violence as a kind of narrative.  How many people think of Gettysburg, for example, and don’t think of the battle there during the Civil War? How many people think of New York and don’t think of 9/11?  I don’t think many people think about Dover, Arkansas except the folks that live there, but if someone from outside were going to create a hypothetical story about the place, what would our most widely told stories say?

If some database searcher in the year 2050 wanted to know about Dover, he or she would most likely end up finding stories related to national news sources.  It seems like the only time I can recall Dover being in the national spotlight, it’s because of some kind of bizarre murder.  

The first time in my memory that Dover was on the national news was after Ronald Gene Simmons killed 16 people, mostly his own family members, in a house north of town in 1987.  I was 14 years old and in the ninth grade.  In 2005, there was the Nona  Dirksmeyer murder, which was on Dateline earlier this month.  

I watched it with my parents in their big house on Linker Mountain, just south of town.  We had some family visiting from out of town because there’d been a funeral that day.  My parents and I watched  the Dateline story with all kinds of insider twittering between us.  We know one-half of the drama personally in various ways. 

Kevin Jones, who was accused and acquitted of killing Dirksmeyer, served me food when I went through the Bayou Bridge Cafe’s drive-through every other day in the summer of 2004. My momma knows his momma from school.  I know one of Kevin’s attorneys on an acquaintance level (he’s my first cousin’s best friend) and a professional level (he did my divorce).  

A small part of my life, including people I know (and  in the case of the lawyer, confessed our dark secrets to), flashed across the national consciousness for an hour.  Watching them all parade across my Dad’s giant flat-screen TV was a strange kind of intersection with cultural discourse that can only happen in a world of 500 channels and the vast Internet. 

Here’s people I grew up with, in this remote backwater of a place, squeezed flat on national television, talking about everything the gossip engine threw out during the few months between Kevin’s arrest and his acquittal.  It sort of felt like a dirty-phobic stranger stumbling across the pile of dirty underwear I hide on the far side of our bed.  

It was the same way when Ronald Gene Simmons went through his horrible spree twenty years ago. Mom and I stayed away from the town square because it was flooded with reporters from all over the world.  A town of roughly 1,000 people doesn’t deal very well with a tsunami of flash bulbs and television cameras.  I remember my grandaddy telling me that the square was packed with cars after they found the bodies on Simmons’s land.  “Not a single empty parking space,” he said. 

When we finally went back to town a week later, there were still a few straggling news vans parked in front of my grandfather’s supermarket in the town square.   When I saw all the stories about the murder via satellite on CNN, I felt the same weird intersection of my life and the larger national chatter. 

The townsfolk mostly behave themselves on TV, though. They waited until Simmons was safely behind bars and the national press onto the next sensational murder before someone sneeked out to the house in the middle of the night and burned it to the ground. There’s nothing left of the place now; it’s gone back to forest.  




4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    […] Roy wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptWhen we finally went back to town a week later, there were still a few straggling news vans parked in front of my grandfather’s supermarket in the town square. When I saw all the stories about the murder via satellite on CNN, … […]

  2. 2

    Tipper said,

    I know exactly how that feels. Eric Rudolph of bombing fame was found in my home town behind the dance studio where my girls took dance. When they first started looking for him the media was every where and not shy about stopping people who had no wish to speak to them.

    The morning after they caught him-it was surreal watching my town on national news. Even stranger the fake name he gave them-was my Dads. That was and is unbelievable. Of course Dad had never met him.

  3. 3

    j said,

    One of the people that R. Gene Simmons shot, and who survived to tell the tale, was my Uncle Rusty. He went on to live a quiet, normal life… apart from appearing on both Oprah and Geraldo.

  4. 4

    hillbillymfa said,


    I had no idea your uncle was involved in all of that. I’m glad he’s okay!!

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