The senseless slaying of Roger Hawkins, a disabled Rogersville veteran of two wars, described by friends as a good man and a good friend, is all the more shocking for its sheer brutality.
Austin Scott Price, 18, and Samuel Wade Hirsch, 22, both of Rogersville, admit to knocking on Hawkins’ apartment door very early Saturday morning and when he opened it, to charging him with a hammer and a hunting knife, beating and stabbing the 52-year-old former U.S. Marine to death. Police say Hawkins fought his attackers as best he could, to no avail.
And for what was a life taken? Hawkins’ pain medication.
Here was a man who gave 21 years of his life to defend America, who served tours in Iraq and then Afghanistan. And still he gave back to his country through service in the Tennessee National Guard, asking nothing but medications to treat his injured body, giving his all, friends say.
To have his life ended so horribly, a scene police said was right out of a nightmare, is beyond tragic. He earned, and deserved, a full life and the grateful thanks of his fellow citizens for his long service to this nation.
We join family and friends in mourning this terrible loss.
Price and Hirsch are being held on $1 million bond, each charged with felony first-degree murder. The evil they perpetrated is to be condemned, their punishment as severe as the law allows.
That two young men, one not yet out of his teen years, could inflict such violence defies comprehension. And yet this story is too often repeated across America. It is what comes of illicit drug use, and it’s only getting worse.
Over a single month in 2011, an estimated 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older — 8.7 percent of the population — used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer. That was up from 8.3 percent in 2002.
In 2009, America passed a milestone as fatal drug overdoses overtook traffic fatalities for the first time to become the primary cause of accidental death. A doubling in drug-related deaths over the past decade is driven not by cocaine or other hard drugs, but by prescription drug use.
Drugs are everywhere in our heavily medicated society. Anti-depressants alone are used on such a scale that they are starting to be found in significant concentrations in river fish.
We seem unable to find solutions. Until we do, Americans must recognize that every one of us is at risk of drug-fueled violence and must take what steps we can:
• It appears Mr. Hawkins’ attackers knew he was using pain medication. So they went after it. Do not discuss your medications with anyone outside the very immediate family, most particularly pain meds.
• Mr. Hawkins opened the door to his attackers between 2 and 3 a.m. even while one of them blocked the peephole. Do not open your door to those you do not know, and even if you do know them, inquire as to their business before you let them in. Much of this violence is perpetrated against family members.
• If Mr. Hawkins had a weapon in his apartment, he did not use it. You should have the means to defend yourself and your family. If someone is pounding at your door in the middle of the night, you should have a weapon in one hand as you answer it and be trained and prepared to use it.
Such is the scourge of illicit drug use in America.