A young, alienated gunman took two innocent lives Wednesday night at the Martin’s Super Market on East Bristol Street, and once again, Elkhart found itself at the center of media attention it never wanted.
So perhaps now, as grieving families prepare to bury their dead in front of a global audience, it’s important to understand something about Elkhart.
The senseless violence inside that grocery store last week does not define us; the courage of police, the bravery of workers inside the store, the outpouring of support for victims and their families — those are the things that define Elkhart.
Consider something Krystle Dikes’ mother said Thursday, a few hours after the shootings.
Krystle, 20, worked as a stocker at Martin’s. Shawn Walter Bair killed her first Wednesday night, shooting her point-blank with a .40-caliber handgun.
“Krystle loved people,” Juanita Whitacre told an Elkhart Truth reporter. “She was very outgoing and she was free-spirited and independent. She probably had thousands of friends that are kids, teenagers, and she reached out to kids that had a lot of problems. She was right there wanting to help them, no matter how bad their situation was, especially the kids with the worst problems. She didn’t judge people by their cover. She looked deeper.”
Then she reflected on the young man who’d killed Krystle.
“His family’s loss is as important as mine,” Whitacre said. “There are three people who died and their families have all had a loss.”
Her grace, her kindness — that defines Elkhart.
But as Whitacre pointed out, three people died Wednesday night. They included Rachelle Godfread, 44, who was at the store shopping. After killing Dikes, Bair found Godfread about 12 aisles away and shot her repeatedly.
On Friday, to honor Dikes and Godfread, Michael Bailey started a Facebook page called Elkhart Strong.
Acknowledging his debt to the Sarah Strong movement, formed last year to aid young Elkhart cancer victim Sarah Crane, Bailey explained he wanted to raise money for the families of Dikes and Godfread. But in an attempt to heal the community, he also asked Elkhart Strong followers to commit two random acts of kindness in memory of Godfread and Dikes, “something as simple as buying the guy behind you his coffee Monday morning or lunch for the next person in line at Burger King tell them its for Rachelle and Krystle and ask them to repeat it thank you again the support proves that we are Elkhart Strong.”
By early Saturday afternoon, the page had more than 4,000 likes. That, too, defines Elkhart.
Inside the store Wednesday night, two Elkhart Police Department officers — Cpl. Cody Skipper and Cpl. Jason Tripp — confronted Bair as he held a manager hostage. The manager escaped when Bair saw Skipper and Tripp, who then shot and killed the 22-year-old gunman.
“The bravery and the quick response of the Elkhart Police Department saved lives,” said Sgt. Trent Smith, public information officer with the Indiana State Police Bremen Post.
Smith also said that as the attack unfolded Wednesday, a couple Martin’s employees stayed in the store to help get people out of the store.
Courage. Composure. Selflessness. Those traits also define us.
Five years ago, when the economy crashed, media with no ties to the community painted Elkhart as the poster child for the Great Recession — or, as a reporter for The New York Times famously called us, “the white-hot center of the meltdown of the American economy.”
But we refused to buy into the despair. By 2012, we’d become the third fastest growing economy in the United States.
We didn’t allow others to define us at the height of the recession, and despite Wednesday’s tragedy, we won’t allow it now.
We know who we are. We are Elkhart Strong.