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Tragedy in Mohawk

March 14, 2013 - John Stack

Newtown. Columbine. Mohawk? I grew up and graduated from Mohawk High School in 1985. It was an idyllic community for us. South Washington was a street like no other. We had a big house. So big Jason Foster and his mother lived in an apartment in the house. Weasel lived across the street. Gary Urich was the first friend I ever made in Mohawk. His parents still live up the street. Andy Bray lived across the street. Wes, Missy, Mary Eric lived down the street. The Hess’s, Mills, The Alexczuks. The 4 Keddell girls (and 1 brother). We would cut thru Weas’ back yard thru our math teacher’s yard Mrs Greene to get to Weller park. At about anytime, we could get 10 kids – most probably from South Washington – to get a pickup football game. Or softball. Across the park was Mohawk High School. At lunch, there were often a half dozen kids at my house. People would walk in and out of our house without knocking. Doors never locked. Keys in the ignition of our cars. After we moved out, a friend walked in a couple years later on the new family at dinner. She never considered knocking.

Things change slowly in Mohawk. We used to go out pool hopping in the summer. Once we were walking down Main Street at 2 AM. Me. Danny, Jason. Soaking wet. Just shorts and bare feet. Cops stop us. What are we to do? Deny our actions? They told us to go home. Some things have changed. Shibs is gone, replaced by a chain Pizza place. A referendum just passed to combine Mohawk with Ilion for the 2013/2014 school year. Old friends now want to do best by their hometown, as my friend Fred is running for the new school board. Lots of friends still live there. New generations work at Remington arms like their parents did. My uncle Jim lived with us when he was about young. He would take his 22 and walk thru town to go and shoot some small game. No one ever took a second glance at him. No longer though.

Up here, we are insulated. 9/11 happens, and we grieve and wonder about the awfulness. I was talking to my fiancé, and she lived near Manhattan at the time. Life REALLY changed down there. They put up giant cement pillars in front of her building (she worked for Prudential as a programmer at the time) so no one could drive a bomb laden truck through the lobby. We mourn at the horrific events of Columbine and Newtown. How do those places cope? We don’t know. We weren’t there. We live here.

At 9AM yesterday, Kurt Myers set fire to his apartment at 32 South Washington. A family lived there also, but they got out unharmed. He got in his Jeep Cherokee and drove to the end of the block and went into John’s barber shop. He’s carrying a shotgun, but its not really concerning. He asks John if he remembers him.”Yeah, how ya doing Kurt?”. Kurt pulls up the gun. He shoots John Seymour. He shoots another customer, John Haslauer. Both are in critical condition. He steps outside. Reloads his shotgun. He shoots and kills Harry Montgomery and Michael Rancear. Gets in his Jeep and goes to Gaffney’s in Herkimer, 2 miles away. He shoots and kills 2 men, Thomas Stefka and Michael Renshaw. No one knows why. He ends up holing up in a vacant building on Main Street. My friend Jill runs a Daycare down the street from all of this. Our towns are turned into battle zones. Cuomo shows up. Police helicopters. SWAT teams. Armored vehicles. Police robots. All schools are locked down. Shots are fired between the gunman and police. Nothing. The wait goes on. Mohawk, Herkimer and Ilion make dinner for the kids. Finally families can pick up their kids. Today, schools are closed. Then at 8 AM today they break in, Myers kills the police dog sent in, SWAT returns fire and kills the shooter.

My hometown will never be the same. It won’t even be normal for a long time. The psychic wounds will be there for years to come. What happened? Why? We may never know. A loner who snapped. My friend Gary’s dad still lives 3 doors down from the killers apartment. Says the guy would never even return a hello (and Gary Sr is a real nice friendly guy, decades in fire department, Vietnam vet). No one could have seen it coming. Who worries about a guy who has a shotgun. That’s as normal in my hometown as ski boots in Saranac Lake. I was sick all day yesterday thinking about it. I’m still shaken today. This tragedy is now real to me. More so than any other random acts of violence. I don’t know what it will be like the next time I go back. I won’t be thinking of the football games me jay and Weasel played at the fire station. Poker and pitch in the basement of my house. Its real now like it never has been before.


Article Comments



Mar-15-13 8:24 AM

John, I see we do have something in common. I graduated from Richfield Springs in '86, not 20 miles from Mohawk, and Dan Haslauer is the father of one of my classmates. I spent time in those towns growing up and travel through every time I go back to visit family. It certainly won't be the same.


Mar-14-13 12:58 PM

John, My heart hurts today too. You are absolutely correct, we are all so disconnected from these tragedies. For example most everyone who reads your blog today will look shocked and say "How terrible.." but will not FEEL it. This is REAL. It was home. I feel it in your words.


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