Friday, October 27, 2006

Failed Seekers

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine shot a policeman and a security guard.

It's odd to write that. It makes me seem more dangerous than I am, so I should probably be a little clearer. Will Morva and I weren't best buddies, or anything like that. In fact, we hadn't even talked to each other in about a year or so. Still, he spent a Christmas with my family, and he and I would shoot the shit whenever we saw each other, so...yeah, Will was my friend.

The Will I knew was a dreamy, flaky, head-in-the-clouds kind of guy. Whenever I wandered through downtown Blacksburg, I'd generally find him outside Bollo's Cafe or Souvlaki's, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a book. We might sit and talk; he'd tell me about whatever idea he was exploring, and I'd tell him about school. He'd ask about my sister, who he went to school with, and we'd catch up.

For the last few years, Will experimented with living outside the capitalist system. For him, this meant not signing a lease, getting a regular job, or owning property. He'd stay with friends for a while, moving from couch to couch. Sometimes, he'd camp out for extended stretches of time. Meanwhile, he'd read obsessively--his particular interest was native american culture. He'd try out different odd ideas, like not wearing shoes or only owning one shirt. Generally, he tried to live his life like an experiment, avoiding the pre-chosen list of traits that define "normalcy."

I think Will tried college, but the structure chafed at him. Over time, so did his attempt at living outside capitalism. He discovered that it is almost impossible to live under the radar for extended periods. He ended up borrowing lots of money. In an attempt to pay up, he tried to rob a convenience store in the summer of 2005.

The robbery attempt was one of the stupidest things I've ever heard of. First off, he and a friend decided to rob the store with a rifle and a shotgun. Frankly, the idea of reaching across a counter to collect money while holding a long-barrelled rifle on someone is a little bit beyond my imagination. I guess that Will planned on having his accomplice grab the money while he held the rifle on the clerk, but even that strikes me as a little stupid. Maybe it could have worked, but I don't think so.

Will's second mistake was showing up at the convenience store after it closed. Apparently, the clerk was cleaning up shop for the night when his would-be robbers knocked on the door. Noticing that they were wearing ski masks and black clothes and holding guns, the clerk decided not to let them in. They, apparently, knocked with increasing intensity while the clerk called the police. Everything about the robbery was amateurish, bordering on almost slapstick. In fact, if I tried, I couldn't design a crime that better demonstrated Will's flaky mentality. Simply put, the guy just wasn't cut out to be a criminal.

Will was caught in a field nearby. He was arrested, arraigned, and jailed in the Montgomery County Courthouse pending his trial.

A year after his robbery, Will still hadn't gone to trial. One day, he complained to his jailers about pains in his wrist and ankle. He claimed that he'd sprained them falling out of bed. The police quickly arranged to take him to a nearby hospital; because of his injuries, they didn't give him ankle chains or tight handcuffs. Once at the hospital, he asked to go to the bathroom, where he tore a toilet paper dispenser out of the wall. He subsequently used the dispenser to knock his police escort out. He then grabbed the policeman's gun and handcuff keys. He freed himself and fled the hospital. In the course of his escape, he shot a hospital guard, who subsequently died.

Will spent most of the next day hiding out on the Huckleberry trail, a 5.75-mile path that leads from Virginia Tech to the New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg. At one point, a Sheriff's deputy, Eric Sutphin, attempted to detain him. Will shot the deputy and fled. Later that day, searchers found him hiding in a patch of weeds. They arrested him and returned him to jail, where he has since been tried and found guilty for the original robbery, and is currently awaiting trial for his escape and the subsequent murders. In Virginia, Will's crimes are capital offenses, and he will probably be executed.

For me, the most incredible thing about all of this was watching the transition of my friend from a gentle, goofy dreamer into a double murderer. I'd like to believe that Will was insane, partially because it's pretty much the only thing that can save his life now, but I have to face the fact that Will's escape attempt shows a lot of calculation and cunning. No, the truth of the matter is that my friend is gone. I realized this when I went out to get some groceries during the manhunt. My sister and my daughter were napping in the basement, and I checked the locks on the doors before I left. I never do this. As I drove to the store, I realized that I was afraid that Will would stumble across our house and take my sister and daughter hostage. Somehow, I'd crossed the threshold from concern to fear.

To Be Continued


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