Yesterday was a somber day in Highlands County. Hundreds gathered at the former site of the SunTrust Midtown Branch on U.S. 27 where now sits Reflection Park, built to honor the lives of five women who were senselessly taken from loved ones a year ago in a mass shooting.
Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Ana Piñon-Williams and Cynthia Watson were taken away from their children, their husbands, their parents or siblings. All of them were taken from a life where plans had already been made for future gatherings.
The Jan. 23 edition of the Highlands News-Sun helped pay tribute to those five ladies. Out of respect to their families, we did not focus on the actual events of the day, nor did we bring attention to the person charged with such a heinous crime.
Just as Thursday’s dedication was for the families and friends of the women … for the county as a whole as it continues to look for ways to accept the fact that Highlands County is now known nationally as a place where multiple lives were lost in a mass shooting.
Reflection Park is a place of peace and healing. It is not just a place to visit when someone wants to remember the victims, or pray for their families. It is a place for all of the county’s residents to visit when looking for a place to reflect, to find peace, to find comfort. As Mayor John Shoop said, to reflect on those people who are most important to us.
Truist Chief Operating Officer Bill Rogers pointed out Thursday that the collective healing will be a long time coming. He promised the families that Truist will go that journey with them.
Anniversaries are an opportunity to look back at an event and remember the things that have happened since. Mainstream news media was here to record the events of the ceremony, again bringing the kind of attention to Highlands County that we wish was not necessary. What they found is a community that continues to lean on each other.
What happened on Jan. 23, 2019 and the future are entangled. That we cannot ignore. Yesterday, however, was for the five women, their families and friends, and for Highlands County.
Rogers said he has been moved to live a life of having more humility, hope and love each day. We should all live such a life.
Just as county residents bolstered together after the shooting to help the families find strength to go on, we will again lean on each other as we continue this journey from a community’s great loss.