I was reading away on the Comey hearing yesterday when a story from my WordPress feed made me stop in my tracks. In the day to day hustle and bustle of living, we tend to forget how fragile or impermanent life truly is for all of us. The story in question dealt with an Alabama inmate that was scheduled for execution yesterday. Additional search revealed that the inmate was indeed executed last night, pronounced dead at 10:27 CST.
This isn’t an essay over whether the death penalty is right or wrong. This is a reflection upon life itself, and I’ll explain. Here’s how the story began on April 15, 1994.
GADSDEN, Ala. — Three employees of a fast-food restaurant were herded into a walk-in cooler and shot to death early Saturday, police said. A fourth worker, wounded and left for dead, crawled to a phone and called police.
Less than two hours later, police arrested two people and charged them with capital murder. One of the suspects had been fired Monday from the Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken restaurant, police Capt. Jimmie Flanagan said.
Cuhuatemoc Peraita, 17, and Robert Bryant Melson, 22, were arrested in an auto that was stopped by police in nearby Rainbow City, Ala. Peraita reportedly had been fired for excessive absenteeism, police said.
Flanagan said robbery was the apparent motive. “Money was taken and recovered,” he said. He did not disclose the amount.
Officials said Peraita was being charged as an adult under a state law signed Thursday by Gov. Jim Folsom, which allows authorities to execute people as young as 16 if they are convicted of a capital offense.
The restaurant was supposed to close at 11:30 p.m. Friday. Authorities said they believe that the shootings occurred sometime after midnight.
Killed were Tamika Collins, 18, Nathaniel Baker, 17, and Darrell Collier, 23, the restaurant manager.
Police who arrived at the fast-food restaurant said they found the bodies of the three employees stacked on top of each other in the narrow, back-room cooler.
Bryant Archer, 17, crawled to a phone and called authorities about 12:30 a.m. He was taken to a hospital with multiple gunshot wounds in the chest and was listed in serious condition Saturday.
I don’t think I’ve posted anything about this here, as I don’t really talk much about this anyway. The first job I ever worked was working for Popeyes in Rainbow City, AL. The person that hired me was Darrell Collier. From March of my junior year of high school in 1990 until the August that I started college in the fall of 1991, I worked there pretty much as a full-time employee. We were a close-knit group among each other as well as with our sister locations, one of which was the Gadsden restaurant. We had friendly competitions ranging from sales contests to an annual football game played on Thanksgiving Day that even included a trophy to the winning location.
Anyway, after I went off to college at Alabama State University, I’d sometimes come home and work on the weekends for extra cash and just to hang out with friends. If I didn’t work, I’d still just pop in to see everyone and get caught up on news. I would drive the two hours home and my first stop was usually Popeyes, where I would hang out until after closing was finished. Then, we’d sit in the parking lot or go somewhere to get drinks or food.
April 15, 1994 started off like any other day for me. It was awards day at ASU, and my mother drove down for the ceremony. I don’t remember exactly what award I received, but the ceremony was over before noon, and my roommate and I were contemplating the drive home that afternoon. I had told my mom that I was headed home before we parted company and she drove on to work. My roommate and I loafed around for a while and eventually decided to wait and drive home early Saturday morning. I can vividly recall making that decision because a thunderstorm popped up around that time, and that was part of the reason why I didn’t want to drive. Anyway, the only two people who knew the change of plans were he and I unless he told someone himself.
Sometime early in the morning, I think around 2am, the phone started ringing. Family and friends were calling to see where I was. Once they found out I was in the room, they said okay and that was that. I think it may have been the second or third call when my aunt was on the other end, I can’t remember for sure Instead of just getting off the phone, she told me that there was a shooting at one of the restaurants at home, and she was checking to see if I had left Montgomery. She worked at the nearby hospital and could see the flashing lights from all the emergency personnel from her building which was at least 1.5 miles away.
Her daughter worked at a KFC in the same area, and my aunt thought that the shooting happened at KFC. Once she found out that it wasn’t KFC and was Popeyes, she was worried that I was there as I would have gone to Popeyes to hang out with Darrell. At first, they had no idea of how many victims were there. At that point, I understood why people were calling. They thought that I was one of the victims. See, not only did I know Darrell and hang out with him when I came home. The shooter, Robert Melson, was a long-time friend and classmate of mine.
Robert and I went back to elementary school as far as knowing each other. We played little league baseball on the same team, and attended school from first grade to graduating high school together. We didn’t run in the same exact social circles, but the town isn’t so big that circles don’t overlap.
I know that, without a doubt, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that decision to not drive home that night. I cried when I got the news as I couldn’t imagine what they went through in those moments that night. I drove home for the funerals, but I didn’t have the strength to attend. Just being home was all I could do.
When I came home for that summer, I switched from working in the Rainbow City location to the Gadsden restaurant. I continued to work at that location until I left Popeyes for good after I graduated college in 1996. It was surreal to enter the location and see where my friend had lost his life. Even though they tried to repair everything, you could still see where the bullet holes were in the freezer. I had recently met Tamika before the robbery, but I did not know her well. I didn’t know the other two at all. I still mourned their deaths as though they were family as we were all a tight-knit group.
After reading about Robert’s execution last night, I looked around me. I have a nice home, a beautiful wife, three amazing kids, and so much more going on. The political crap that’s going on in this country can take a break. Sometimes, it is good to just sit back and realize how little time we really have in this world. I feel like I’ve been living on borrowed time for more than 23 years now. I don’t know what God has planned for me to accomplish, but I do know that I haven’t achieved that goal yet. He has made sure that I’m still here, and that is something that I don’t take for granted. Maybe that is something that more people should think about instead of worrying about who lied and who didn’t. There’s always tomorrow to deal with the political crap. Take a break and enjoy your life today. You never know when it’s your last day to do so, so why wait?