It’s been a little crazy around here! It’s also been kind of scary, and empowering. I am finally at a point where I think I can write about it, and I had a hard time deciding weather or not to post this. In the end, I realized I HAD to write about it…just to get it out. What follows is my reflection on the past three weeks in June, told from my perspective as a writer, neighbor, and citizen of the North Country.
Some of you may know that I live in a rural part of New York State, in the Adirondack Mountains. The Adirondacks are filled with little hamlets, small towns and villages, where almost everyone knows their neighbors, and we all look out for each other. These are sleepy little towns, situated amidst the wildlife, flora and fauna of nature.
On June 6, 2015, my sleepy little town woke to the news that two prisoners from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY had escaped. While I know that this escape made the state, national, and even some international news, it really hit close to home for me. The maximum security prison they escaped from is just a few miles from my home.
The news of the escape scared us. Our sleepy little town, with its picturesque mountains, old barns, dense forests and scenic byways, had become the perfect hiding place for two escaped killers who didn’t want to be found. And at the time, mere hours since they were reported missing, everyone living here was on high alert.
For the first week of the manhunt, hundreds of law enforcement flooded in and scoured our area, conducting grid searches and following up on hundreds of leads. I had never before seen such a presence. The night Homeland Security called our house to tell us how to lock ourselves in, I knew it was real. The road I live on formed a part of the perimeter of the search for that first week or so, and it was manned every hundred feet with armed guards, rifles pointed toward the woods. Getting anywhere meant that we would be searched, and ID’d so that we could come home.
But I was okay with that. The officers wanted us to be safe.
Questions that ran through my head: How much should I tell my eight-year-old? Would any innocent lives be lost? How in the world would they find these escapees? Would we ever be able to sleep at night? There were lots of other questions, too.
Fear had gripped us as our forests became the perfect hiding spot.
Yet even with everyone on high alert, not knowing if the escapees might hop out of the brush at any time, I never felt safer. My family and all of our neighbors felt an incredible sense of security amid the fear. The law enforcement officers provided peace to us even though our world was changing before our eyes. They manned our road 24/7. At the same time, community members were on alert with them, checking in on neighbors and friends.
Then one day, they packed up. Law enforcement had cleared our area, and they began to focus elsewhere, following up on tips and leads from other communities. Escapees: still at large. We were happy that we had been deemed safe, but the security of our law enforcement presence was gone. Every little sound from the forests, which at one time was a comfort, made us wonder… We knew we would get through this together. We listened to scanners, followed reports on the news, Twitter, and Facebook, and gave each other encouragement.
Which brings up another point; I have never been more proud of the citizens of our sleepy little Adirondack towns. We had the courage to keep watch over our families and neighbors, and the strength to report any suspicious activity. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it was nerve-wracking. And that feeling wasn’t going to go away until the whole thing was over.
That day finally came this past week when both escapees were taken down two days apart, one dead, one wounded, in an area about forty miles from where they began their escape. Rallies were held in Dannemora in support of the law enforcement members who brought this chapter to a close, twenty-three days after it began. And there is much more investigating to be done.
I don’t know if things can ever be the same here. The escape was like nothing we had ever been through, and the law enforcement members that joined together with our communities—unprecedented. We are strong. North Country Strong. And I am forever grateful to the law enforcement which showed up that day; the day my sleepy little town woke up.