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Wishing they weren't household names

Why do some stories capture the interest and attention of the public and others don't? You know what I mean. People disappear every day. Kids run away. There is murder and mayhem around every turn and we are absolutely oblivious to most of the malfeasance - and when we do pay attention, it is usually for a fleeting moment and then our thoughts drift back to our own humdrum existence.

Most people my age or older will remember the name of Mary Shotwell Little - the Atlanta newlywed who disappeared, one afternoon, from Lenox Square. As far as I know, her body was never found and she has never been heard from again, but her case drew the attention of the nation and for months and months and months people debated what happened to her.

More recently we had the tragic case of Natalie Holloway - the Alabama teenager who disappeared on the last night of her senior class trip to Aruba. I would be willing to bet that more people can identify Natalie Holloway than Nancy Pelosi.

The disappearance of Laci Peterson and her unborn child attracted attention all across the land, and we watched the sordid details of her story unfold from the time of her disappearance right up to the sentencing of her husband, Scott.

Most of us in this area never forgot the name Shannon Melendi and shared in some small way in her family's relief when Butch Hinton was convicted of her murder.

Don't even get me started on O.J.

But the fact that most of us are familiar with all of the names I've mentioned before just proves the point I am trying to make. Some cases, because those involved are rich or famous or beautiful or whatever, create a sensation in the media while others, although just as tragic and just as heinous, go unnoticed, or are quickly forgotten.

And then there is the case of JonBenet Ramsey. None of us have ever forgotten all the many photographs of the precious little 6-year-old girl, made up to look like a teenaged beauty queen. None of us have forgotten all the awful speculation that surrounded her death - the ransom note from supposed kidnappers, the grisly discovery of the poor child's dead body in the basement of her family's upscale Boulder home, the rampant speculation that her parents were somehow involved.

Perhaps it was because the child was so unusually beautiful. Perhaps it was because of the flamboyant - some say sexually charged - outfits her parents dressed her in. Perhaps it was because her parents' lives seemed so idyllic - he an ultra successful businessman, she a former beauty queen herself - whatever the reason, we all paid attention to the story.

The supermarket tabloids, of course, wouldn't leave the family alone and printed article after article, full of accusations and speculation and half-truths and outright lies. Even when JonBenet's mother, Patsy, died of cancer a few scant weeks ago, people were still pondering her potential involvement in her child's death.

And then Wednesday afternoon, right out of the blue, came breaking news from Thailand that an arrest had been made in the 10-year-old case. A wormy-looking guy named John Mark Karr had been arrested in Bangkok in connection with the case, and suddenly all the old wounds were reopened as the world scrambled to dig up dirt on the latest suspect. And there was plenty of dirt to find.

He was supposedly a second-grade teacher and rumored to have once taught in Rockdale County. The Rockdale teacher part was dispelled as myth, but then it seemed that he had been a substitute teacher in Alabama and had lived in Conyers and the Atlanta area. Then we learned that he had been married to a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old - and things just got weirder and weirder, and three days later we really don't know whether this strange, sick man had anything to do with the 10-year-old murder case or not.

He insisted he had drugged JonBenet, but her autopsy report didn't indicate drugs. He claimed the death was accidental - the forensic reports say otherwise. His ex-wife insists he was at home with her, in Alabama, when the murder occurred. Prosecutors claim Karr knows things that haven't been made public.

And meanwhile, the media circus is going full blast and, once again, all the particulars of a young child's death - which must be any family's greatest nightmare - are being illuminated under a giant spotlight, as much in the name of morbid curiosity as anything else.

I have no idea if John Mark Karr is a murderer or just some kook seeking his 15 minutes of notoriety - fame isn't the appropriate word - but if he did it, I hope authorities can prove it quickly and put the case to rest, so JonBenet Ramsey can rest in peace and so her family, those who are left, can get on with the rest of their lives.

And in the midst of all the media hoopla, I hope we will, somehow, pause to remember all the crime victims whose names have not become household words.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.