There are real bad guys in the real world who mean to harm innocents.
Their stories have been told for years, whether named for their handiwork, like Jack the Ripper and The Boston Strangler, or known by their now infamous proper names, like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.
They produce made-for-TV movies about such evil men, where they are often portrayed with ominous lighting and creepy music accompanying their every move.
Those types of evil men do tend to get a lot of attention from Hollywood, not to mention the fear of them we create in our own fertile imaginations. But in the real world, most of the people who do most of the killing in our suburban homes and neighborhoods won’t be found pictured on a movie poster. More likely, they will be featured prominently in our own family albums.
Wayne Hawes smiled back at us a lot this weekend. His pictures were featured on at least a dozen social media pages, posted by friends and loved ones all over the area. Many of us went looking for clues as to what happened, who his family was and why he was so very, very angry. Haunting images to say the least, but virtually nothing posted prior to his jealousy inspired murder spree that would indicate anyone was afraid of Hawes, or that there were any concerns he was a danger to himself or others.
Shortly after 7 p.m. last Friday night he went looking for his in-laws. What followed was the single deadliest criminal rampage in local history. Five victims dead, topped with his own suicide just for good measure. Wayne Hawes wanted to cause his estranged wife as much heartache and heartbreak as he could possibly muster.
“Collins pronounced Roose-velt Burns and Rheba Mae Dent dead at the scene of their Johnson Drive home Friday night. Collins said both were in a shed behind the home cutting up chicken thighs where they were shot. Burns was seated in a chair inside the shed, and Dent was found seated on the floor.
Collins said he suspects the pair were not threatened by Hawes when he approached because they were found still holding the utensils they were using to cut chicken. Both were shot in the chest.”
Burns and Dent were in fact preparing a large meal for their relatives gathering for the funeral of their 28-year-old cousin Travis Dent, who died of natural causes exactly one week to the day prior to their own untimely and unnatural deaths.
As the coroner theorized, none of the victims knew to fear their killer. In a conversation with Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle three days after the attack, he made it crystal clear that his people had no warning that Wayne Hawes was threatening violence or that he was in illegal possession of four guns with which to do the damage.
As a convicted felon of many years, Hawes was not allowed to have firearms. As a man with a serious criminal record, reported threats of violence would have been vigorously investigated, with zero tolerance for excuses.
So who knew he was considering such a plan? According to several hundred headlines that covered at least four continents, apparently several people did. Most notably, his own 26-year-old daughter, as quoted by the Associated Press:
“He made threats before, but we never thought it would be at this capacity,” Lauren Hawes said. “He’s been kind of a ticking time bomb if you want to put in a few words.”
She continued, “He’s done things that were questionable in the past, but never to this extent. This is very surprising. We thought he could possibly hurt himself, but not others…”
There was another quote, this one from a WRDW-TV News 12 report:
“Lauren says trouble started brewing a few weeks ago. Her dad kicked her and her one year old daughter out of his home after an argument when Lauren says she was sticking up for her mom. Then, last week, she says her mom stuck up for herself after decades of verbal abuse.
“My mom had left, and this time it was for real. She had left before and it was kind of sporadic and she didn’t really take anything. This time it was more planned. She took her personal belongings,” said Lauren.
“Last week he had started making threats saying that he would kill her and that he was going to make CNN news,” she said.
These quotes are not shared to blame Lauren or her mother, who was apparently directly threatened by Wayne Hawes many times. It is shared as a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.
Wayne Hawes’ immediate family knew of his criminal past, they also reportedly knew he kept guns around. They knew he had a temper, and as you read above, they knew what he was promising to do.
We must assume they simply did not believe he was evil enough to carry through on his promises. Clearly, it was an assumption that cost them dearly.
Last week in this space I shared a few details of the sad and troubled last days of 23-year-old Hannah Newman. While the final word on her exact cause of death will be delayed due to the indefensible underfunding of the Georgia Crime Lab, there is no doubt that she was living a life that was full of conflict, violence and substance abuse. Those close to her, family and friends who genuinely mourn her loss, were eyewitnesses to lots of self destructive and risky behavior. Behavior that should have been aggressively curtailed. I was not a witness to what went on in her Oakdale Road home; maybe they did try to intervene. If they did try, and they honestly failed, there is no shame in that. Sorrow perhaps, but no shame.
But was the attempt made?
The same question must be put to the family of Wayne Hawes. How much more warning did they need, what possible straw was to be the one that broke the camel’s back and force a call to the police? Their failure to act, and their reluctance to report what was clearly threatening and illegal behavior, put them all at risk. Given his anger, and the number of guns he had in his possession, it is a minor miracle 20 more beloved family members didn’t die.
There are tragic lessons in the examples given to us by the people closest to both Hannah Newman and Wayne Hawes.
Lessons detailed in the news copy and obituary notices reporting the names of the deceased, and the sad circumstances that preceded their passing.
Deaths that did not have to happen.
Deaths that came without warning, to all but those who knew the prologue, and simply chose not to tell it.