A young life cut short

FLINT – She went for a walk. That’s it. That’s all. She went for a walk on a summer day with her border collie along a trail in the woods. A kid should be able to do that.

But she never returned.

They found April Millsap’s 14-year-old body in a drainage ditch near the trail. Her dog led them to her, which only proves that dogs are often better people than people.

When you saw the news about April – a gentle soul from Macomb County who loved poetry and was excited to be starting high school this fall, just like my youngest son – your reaction was probably the same as mine: “Is nothing sacred? Is no one safe? Is any place safe? Who would do such a thing? Who would murder a girl walking her dog in the woods?”

I have no answers. The police certainly don’t either. They’re searching for a small white and blue motorcycle and a grey, dented van. They’ve said family members and her boyfriend aren’t suspects.

But I do know that this kind of thing seems to happen more often these days. Maybe every generation thinks that. There’s a natural tendency to think life was always better, safer, saner “back in the day.” But I don’t think it’s my imagination.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the sheer number of murders. Crime statistics will tell you they’re down. I’m talking about the ferocity of them, their predatory nature. Plus, the sheer stupid, infuriating senselessness of the mayhem these days.

Yes, of course, there’s no sense to be found in a murderer’s heart. But murders often are “about” something – greed, hatred … something.

But what explains the school shootings and other mass murders that are so in style these days? And what, for the love of God, explains April Millsap? How does a kid – a small-town girl who never hurt a fly – go for a walk along a well-traveled path in the woods, far from the big city that we imagine these kinds of crimes belong to, and not return?

Her mother said, “She did not deserve to die like this. Please tell people don’t ever think it cannot happen to you. We would have never expected something like this to happen to us.”

But the funny thing is, we do. We all know it could happen. In fact, a dark corner of our collective psyche expects it to happen, which is why so many parents don’t let their kids out of the yard these days. Heck, they don’t even let them be in the yard alone and unsupervised.

Who can blame us? This is not how life used to be. Anyone 40 or older knows how different things were not so very long ago. Kids left the house in the morning and didn’t return until lunch. We gulped some food and then, zip, we were gone again until the dinner hour, which is when you’d start to hear parents hollering out the front door, “Miiiiiiiichael! Juuuuulie!” Then we were gone again, returning home only when the streetlights told us to.

It was magical. So what happened? Human beings had human natures back then, too. Murders happened. Assaults happened. Foulness of all sorts happened.

But not like this. Not as often as this. Not as senselessly and as pointlessly as this. Something is different, and I for one can’t put a finger on what.

Searching for a reason, I suppose, is beside the point, though. A young girl is dead and dozens of other lives are shattered. That’s what matters. April’s mother put it best. “They ruined somebody’s life.”

But it’s more than that. They – or he – ruined a lot of other lives, too. Anyone who knew April feels empty today.

Then there’s this: Whoever did this also snatched away another chunk of our collective sense of security.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.