The paths of two people crossed Thursday in the parking lot at Target in Bryant. Less than 24 hours later, one life ended at the hand of the other and a community struggles to understand why.
The tragic death of Heather Baker has left me puzzled and, quite frankly, numb.
I was driving back to Benton from Bryant by taking the long way through Bauxite. Along the way a sheriff's department vehicle sped by me in the opposite direction as if on fire with lights and siren blazing. Flipping on the police scanner, I heard the sounds of an emergency in progress.
The familiar language of "setting up an LZ" let me know a life was in danger. A landing zone, or LZ, meant the Medflight helicopter in Little Rock was on the way.
The faces of the many first responders from various public safety departments in the county were locked and focused, but behind their eyes was the same realization that when their efforts to help this 20-year old woman end, the magnitude of what they were witnessing would claim the corners of their consciousness.
Employees from Target were doing everything they could to assist in anyway possible. Training for such a situation was surely not covered in orientation, but they were there. Helping.
I stood to the side and watched as rescue personnel worked to save Heather. I saw faces of disbelief in the windows of nearby stores as people took in the unimaginable scene before them. Eyes were wide. Mouths were open trying to gather a sweet breath of air into lungs as if doing so would sympathetically bring an extra dose of life to the victim. Hands were on faces, shielding eyes and across mouths in disbelief.
I was too close. The power of the moment pulled me from correspondent to participant in the collective prayer for strength and healing others around the parking lot were sending up.
I decided to walk away. I saw a shaded spot under one of the trees in the far end of the cordoned off parking lot near the waiting helicopter.
As I walked, an image I will never forget was immediately seared into my memory. A lone sandal on the pavement behind the rescue workers gathered around Heather was a powerful reminder that the life of this young woman hung in the balance a short 10 to 15 feet away.
I made my way to the small patch of shade under the tree at the far end of the parking lot. I sat my camera to the side. No pictures had been taken. I turned my head from the scene and began to collect my thoughts.
"What ifs" began to cross my thoughts. What if the driver of the vehicle had driven just two miles per hour slower? What if traffic had slowed either the driver or Heather on their journey? What if one or the other had taken a different turn?
Would the outcome be the same?
Then I wondered, what if the parking lot had been busier with other shoppers going into or out of the other stores? What if there had been other people in the path of the driver? What if the driver had not turned into the shopping center?
The answer to these questions will never be known nor will the why and how.
Bryant Fire Chief JP Jordan walked over and sat with me for a bit. The back of the ambulance opened, he stood and walked away. I stood as well, reaching for my camera. I looked toward a firefighter near the ambulance and he shook his head in a motion of "no" as I raised my camera. I didn't interpret the motion as a directive not to take a photo, to which I wasn't. The look on his face gave me the impression he was asking that I not. I shook my head in return and mouthed, "I'm not" and gestured with my hand toward the helicopter in an up and down motion. The firefighter then nodded his head. He understood.
As the helicopter lifted off the ground taking Heather to emergency care, it flew over the site of what eventually became the place of her last moments of consciousness. I imagined this to be a thank you from her to those who worked their hardest to preserve the future she would not have.
Looking back on that moment with the understanding of what happened following the impact of the vehicle, I also imagine the helicopter as taking the soul of this woman to her home in Heaven.
In the days since the accident, many people continue to have difficulty comprehending the purpose or reason for Heather's death. There is no logical explanation to ease the pain. God has his own plan, but how does the God of mercy allow such tragedy to occur? However, God will provide peace and comfort as a community lifts prayers on behalf of Heather and her family.
Faith follows on the heels of disbelief.
And sometimes, comprehension doesn't come.