Insanity in Iowa

I’m from a fairly small town in Eastern Iowa.  There are only about 20,000 or so people who live there, it’s the largest city in the county, and the county is all farm county.  Take a drive out to the North End of town, keep going, and you’ll see nothing but farms in about 5 minutes.

It’s not Mayberry.  There are murders and thefts.  My Dad had his boat motor stolen when I was a kid, the police didnt think it was a big deal, my Dad did most of the work to get it back.  The neighbour kid got into the garage, took it, and sold it.  Down the street from where I had my first apartment (about 4 blocks or so) a girl was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.  It was pretty gristly.  When I walked by the house on my way to school, after the murder, I swore I could hear her scream.  Overall though, it’s the kind of place where you can walk from one of town to the other in the middle of the night and not have to worry.    That’s what makes this so unusual:

An armed man is in custody after taking two hostages Sunday night at a Clinton grocery store.

This is the second hostage situation in a month.  The last one was at the Workforce Development building.  A man went in with a gun, took his wife hostage, held her and other people in the building hostage for 6 hours, before shooting himself.

Even though there have been some murders, it doesnt happen often.  I lived in Clinton until I was 19 and moved to a different city, but made the 2 hour trek nearly every weekend for 2 years.  Hostage situations?!  As far as I know, was not a hostage situation when I lived there, and hasnt been one (let alone two in about a month) since I left. 

BTW, this is the 3rd hostage situation this year.  The first was in January and was resolved with no loss of life.

I find these developments very disturbing.

Clinton has been an economically depressed area for a long time.  Since I was a kid.  There are some factory jobs (Ralston Purina 3M, ADM), but mostly retail jobs, and unless you want to farm, there is little else.  My parents have owned their home for nearly 16 years.  Before the housing market crashed, their home only increased in value by about 20,000$.  Even for Iowa, Clinton Co. is economically depressed.

Areas like Clinton, areas that are already economically depressed, dont see much in the way of economic progress when times are good.  Now, when the economy has been on the brink of collapse, and is still fragile, areas like Clinton disproportionately, feel the squeeze. 

Clinton is full of people just making ends meet.  Even in an economically depressed area, minimum wage, doesnt pay the bills.  In a family that is already just making ends meet, the loss of a job or a cut in hours, can be devastating.  All of a sudden, you’re totally screwed.  A person who feels trapped under a load of stress and pressure can do crazy things. 

I have no idea how sound the 3 men in the news stories were to begin with.  For all I know, they could have been totally nuts and some small thing, like having crunchy peanut butter, set them off.  All I know is with the economy the way it is, fear around keeping or loosing a job, generalized anxiety about the economy, families under strain .  .  .  Sometimes something’s gotta give.  I just hope this is not going to become a trend.

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