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Never Met a Stranger: Gun violence in Athens

By T.W. Burger

One of the dangers of becoming a superannuated human being, i.e., an old guy, is that one finds oneself becoming increasingly anecdotal. Those of us in this select group are prone to begin tales with “Why, back in my day….” and go from there to put any number of unfortunate folks into a coma.

I usually avoid talking about rotary phones, party lines, manual transmissions, and the days when “digital” meant something one did with one’s fingers, mainly because young people, I believe, think us geezers are just making it up.

I will make an exception about death and murder, specifically as brought about by firearms.

Yes, we had firearms when I was young. I owned several of them, but hardly ever shot at anyone (there were two exceptions, but both were self-defense and neither of them are relevant here.)

I was around plenty of gun victims, as I worked on two pre-EMT ambulance services, one in Athens and another in another Southern state. We had no training beyond the tactic of holding a towel over the wound, pressing down, and telling the victim not to worry: “I know it looks bad, but trust me, you’ll be fine.”

The later statement was an absolute lie. I had no idea; I just wanted him (It was always a male) to stop screaming and asking me if he was going to die.

Sometimes my patients died, sometimes they were OK. My job was to get them to the ER, hopefully in time for the doctors to reel them back from the dark.

I was 17. A child of the suburbs. I was horrified, though it was an effective way to abolish lots of delusions about how the real world operated.

I had this naïve notion at the time that Athens-Clarke County was sort of the Wild West.

Silly me.

I moved away from Athens in late 1984 to follow a career in journalism. In more recent years I have read Classic City News every day.

Over the years, I have discovered that what I blissfully regarded at the Wild West in the town where I grew up was actually The Good Old Days. I am trying hard to remember little Opie, Barney Fife, Goober and Sheriff Andy cavorting around, complete with a laugh track and the scent of Aunt Bea’s pies.

What the f**k have you people done with my town?

According to Joe at CCN, “It seems a few days can’t go by without someone being shot or shot at.”

I read all these stories with a growing sense of loss. Joe went on to write that “seven people were injured when a man opened fire on a group of people who were fighting in the roadway at N Jackson and E Clayton streets…a man shot and killed his brother and two sisters at Hallmark Estates…there have been gang murders and numerous drive-by shootings at occupied homes and in 2011 two cops were shot, one of whom died.”

In my sleepless youth, I would drive my jalopies up and down every street at all hours, with never a shot fired at me. I lived for a time in public housing, despite warnings by friends that I would be murdered in my sleep. Never had any threats except from one drunk who thought I was in his apartment.

A few people I knew personally were the victims of gun violence. Sadly, I do not remember most of their names; just guys who worked somewhere I frequented. One of them was a mechanic at the shop where Dad and I both had our vehicles worked on. The police listed his death as self-inflicted, but the shop’s owner knew details that cast doubts on that ruling. The mechanic, who I will call Roger, was black, so the cops in the day did not really care. Those of us who had worked with the man reminisced about it for some time after.

I cannot recall if Roger’s death made it off the police blotter. Black Lives did not Matter back then, but his mattered to us.

I heard that kids kept showing up at the site of one shooting, hoping to get a glimpse of blood stains or bits of flesh.

And here I thought that MY generation grew up glorifying violence.

I almost must laugh at all the action films I watch on Netflix. Many of them are war-type movies, showing soldiers who look like most of us think we used to look blowing the bejesus out of people we have forgotten look like some of us.

Various folks who really love those movies, are fond of arming themselves with military style guns and clothing and strutting…. well, waddling…around in public spaces as a way of letting all of us now that they are just as badass as Sylvester Stallone or Jason Statham. Statham is 54. Stallone is 75. The U.S. has not won a war since 1945. We just blow stuff up and kill people, hoping that a few bad guys are among the bodies.

That may be part of the problem. Today’s shooters think that violence has no real meaning, or that dead is not forever.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

President of Marsh Creek Media, he has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose" is currently writing “Never Met a Stranger.”

674 views3 comments


Unknown member
Dec 12, 2021

I was with ya till the end there... The violence we are seeing today has nothing to do with war movies or 2A supporters making a point to exercise our ever dwindling rights.


Thanks, Terry! I just got back on Classic City News and hadn't seen your piece from September. Yeah, if I were you, I'd stay in Pennsylvania. :-(


Sep 21, 2021

Very well stated 👏🏽

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