Criticism of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Department and the local court system has been coming hot and heavy in the wake of last weekend’s murder/suicide involving a 67-year-old mentally disturbed grandfather and his 16-year-old grandson.
While shock, heartbreak and confusion are certainly understandable in the aftermath of such a horrific event, misplaced blame is certainly not going to help bring anyone closure in this tragedy.
For the last 40 years, Ronnie Wilson was an abusive alcoholic. At least that is what his friends and family have been telling the authorities. His estranged wife Anna knew it; they maintained separate residences right next door to each other in the woods off Whaley Pond Road.
She says Ronnie was a tortured Vietnam veteran. A PTSD victim who self medicated with whatever booze he could get his hands on. A mean SOB who seemed to be getting meaner and more aggressive. Three days before the events that ended his life, he was booked into the Aiken County jail on charges of criminal domestic violence.
According to reports, the final conflicts began to manifest last Thursday. He apparently was mad with Anna about a bill that involved one of the family pets and he confronted her and their grandson and his girlfriend with a handgun. When officers were dispatched to the scene, they discovered Ronnie Wilson back in his own house, obviously drunk, but with no handgun to be found. No matter: Wilson admitted to the charges and said he often walked into his ex-wife’s home with a gun in his hand. Officers looked but could not find the handgun, and if Ronnie knew where it was, he wasn’t talking.
Off to the jailhouse he went.
He was in custody approximately 19 hours, according to The Jail Report, and then released on a minor bond.
Details are sketchy and investigators are not talking about what happened, but shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon, he confronted the same three in the living room of Anna’s house, this time, I am told, with a shotgun.
Sixteen-year-old Gerald Wilson courageously stepped between his grandfather’s raised weapon and the women, as the troubled elder screamed, “I am going to kill you all.”
The young man had the face of a movie star and the charisma of Prince Charming. But all that he was destined to be, and all the life he had yet to live, was forfeit in that very instant. One blast and he was gone. The noise, the confusion, the violence… it was enough to stagger the grandfather for just the short moments it took for Anna and Dareyla Kirkendahl, Gerald’s girlfriend, to safely run out of the house. I am told Dareyla was so narrowly missed by the subsequent shots that followed that she actually suffered powder burns.
Anna Wilson was able to flag down a passing deputy, who almost immediately witnessed Ronnie Wilson end his own life with the same weapon he used to attack his family.
We have been told that Wilson was only released from custody when it was made clear to him to stay away from his estranged wife, and after she had been notified by “an automated call” that he was indeed being released from jail. I understand that since no real violence occurred in the Thursday confrontation, there was little the department could do to keep him, based on the charges at hand.
I know many officers who work for Aiken County Sheriff Mike Hunt, and I can tell you that if any of them had the chance to be there, one on one, to confront Ronnie Wilson Sunday afternoon, they would have used every bit of their know how, training and weapons to keep Gerald and the others safe from harm. Sadly, they were not on the scene. You can’t intervene when you are nowhere near the bad guy.
He had no formal training, but Gerald Wilson did step up. For that, I have no doubt that he died a hero, saving two lives, and perhaps others, in the process.
If the dangerous behaviors of Ronnie Wilson were not distinctly known by lawmen, they certainly seemed to be known by the adult members of his own family. What was it they have told authorities? “Years of alcohol abuse.” More than a decade of “irrational behavior.” Epic tantrums and dangerous threats, blamed on a mental condition brought about by traumatic war service.
How in the living world do you allow a man like that to get anywhere near guns, alcohol or anything else he could easily parlay into an afternoon straight out of a bad horror movie?
Gerald Wilson was not betrayed by the legal system, nor any man who wears a badge. He was let down by those in his own family who allowed the living monster next door such easy access to such dangerous things. While I can almost guarantee you no one wanted Ronnie to have guns and liquor, it does not appear they did a hell of a whole lot to prevent it, either.