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Williams column: The gunfire of fleeing criminals

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
In rural areas, especially during hunting season, the gunfire of hunters can be heard in the distance, and one’s mind naturally jumps to the particular designated times of the year for the hunting of particular animals, and which animal is possibly the potential recipient of those shots which are being fired and heard. Gunfire in the suburbs or urban areas is usually a sign of something more dire, not pidgeon-holed to any season of the calendar.
The other night, in Danville, just before falling asleep, I heard gunfire over on Holbrook Street. If I had already fallen asleep, those shots would have awakened me, because an old man’s sleep is not as deep as that of a youth. I remember my sleep as a child being much deeper than it is now. Perhaps an old man subconsciously fears a deep sleep, because he is more increasingly aware of that eventual deepest of sleeps which is forthcoming.
Those gunshots the other night, reminded me of something which occurred in my old neighborhood as a child, one night around 1961.
I guess it would be more correct to say that the subject about which I am writing, is more properly, a memory of our nextdoor neighbor on the Old Concord Road, Mr. Paul Ritchie, rather than my own. Despite this fact, I heard him speak of it fairly often, to the point that I can lay some claim to it myself because of my frequent hearing, and because of the fact that it did occur within our back yard and the woods behind our house, although those bearing the last name of “Williams” in that house, that night, were basically unconscious.
Since Mr. Ritchie has been gone from the world for some years now, I will relate what he heard and saw then.
Late that night, somewhere in the temporal vicinity of 1961, as later told to us by Mr. Ritchie, a criminal was fleeing several deputies of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department. The criminal’s path of flight took him down the Old Concord Road, specifically, into our little immediate community, which began just south of the curve following Mr. Bringle’s home .
I don’t remember Mr. Ritchie stating the particular criminal’s crime, just to say that the fugitive was on the run through our neighborhood. I only heard about the incident after the fact, because I was evidently “dead-to-the-world-asleep” at the time. My mother never knew of that incident firsthand, because she was evidently, “dead-to-the-world asleep” also.
My father worked as a clerk at the Spencer yard office of Southern Railway. Since he always worked that job on the third shift, he was some miles away, out of earshot of any occurring shots, and didn’t return home untill the next morning.
As best as I can remember, my brother Joe was away at Mars Hill College in Madison County, pursuing his continuing education.
Since my brother was pursuing his education, and my father was pursuing his work, that education and work not located at Rt.7, Box 147 Old Concord Road, both my father and brother had irreproachable excuses for not having heard the gunshots from that pursuit, which transpired in our back yard and woods that night. They had much better excuses than did my mother and I.
The next morning, after my father had returned home from work, Mr. Ritchie told us what had happened. Officers of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department had chased a criminal through our back yard and into the dark, shadowy woods behind our home. The situation was quite dangerous, because the subject was armed, and gunshots were being exchanged between both the deputies and their fleeing subject before he finally gave up and surrendered, but only after a traveling cacophony of gunfire had ranged all along their route from our yard and into those dark woods.
Mr. Ritchie was one of the truly good persons of this world, and it was a privilege to grow up with such a gentleman for a neighbor. In my later adult profession as a social worker, I can only hope that my helpfulness as a person in my professional life, approached at least an appreciable percentage of Mr. Ritchie’s helpfulness to others, throughout both his professional and personal lives. I remember his voice being ever hearty, and he always seemed to be in the best of spirits. I never saw him in a bad mood , his personality evidenced with light-heartedness and joking.
Many times, this last mentioned attribute was made manifest, but one of the times of which I especially remember its manifestation, was when Mr. Ritchie would recount the events which had transpired that night around 1961, then make the final pronouncement :”What sound sleepers some of the Williamses are!”

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