Hailey Dunn is missing. Dunn a 13 year old teenage girl went missing in my hometown right before the New Year. According to media reports she was reportedly walking to her father’s house and then to her friend’s house to spend the night. She never got there; the father and the friend reported they did not know she was supposed to be coming.
My home town, Colorado City, Texas, pronounced ColOrAdO, is a dry spot in a long straight I-20 in west Texas. In the late 19th century it was a railhead city and a boom town for a while. It’s now a small west Texas town with 4500 people surviving in the big country of Texas.
Most of the people who live there are very conservative and very Christian, though it’s a remarkably diverse group of people. They are good people, people anyone would call the salt of the earth. They are people who are proud of who they are, what they believe and where they live.
The live in Colorado City and it is their village, their community, their safety net and it hurts them in a very real way that Hailey is missing and they haven’t been able to find her or find out what has happened to her. They take it as a personal affront that this could happen in their village and it scares them that something bad like this could happen “even” in little Colorado City.
Marty and I both grew up in small towns in Texas and we have both in several small towns in Texas; thus we must be experts about small towns in Texas. All of these small communities are very different, but they all carry pride in their community, a security in their surroundings and a closeness we don’t often see in larger cities. Small towns take their communities and the closeness of their community very serious.
I haven’t lived in Colorado City for a long, long time but it is where I was sculpted, it was where my foundations began so I have some sense of understanding how the residents feel. I have been following the Hailey Dunn story through friends, Face book postings and the news and what I have heard and read feels very familiar. The town has taken loss of a child very personally and as a community have adopted Hailey and banded together to protect her. They have collectively taken umbrage at any criticism of their town, their people or their community leaders, it’s what we do in small towns, band together against those who don’t understand us.
The prayer vigil they organized attracted 750 people, praying for a child most had never met. The tiny six person police department is clearly stretched too thin and have called in and gratefully accepted help from countless outside organizations. There have been huge volunteer search parties organized on multiple days searching without success. They go out and search the town, the country, the city’s landfill, hoping they find life but ultimately grateful they are disappointed when they find nothing. The people of this small community have wrapped their collective arms around Hailey’s family praying what is ultimately discovered won’t break their hearts.
Of course there are complaints, of course there are, it’s what we do when we are scared, when we can’t control all things. Of course there are criticisms, back biting, accusations, and rumors; these are the fuel for small communities, it’s how they breathe.
As the clock has ticked since Hailey’s disappearance the police have gone from a runaway child to a missing person’s investigation. Now whispers and accusations and recriminations are starting to simmer. People are looking at the live-in boyfriend with jaundiced eyes; they are looking at the mother with disapproval for not checking up on the missing girl earlier. But really these things take a back seat to the real issue, where is Hailey, and how can they help her.
My hometown is going through the natural stages of grief right now. They are hopeful, they are denying, they are angry, but they are not giving up, they are not letting the worst of the world bend their west Texas spirit. From a long way away, from many years ago, I still see the substance, I still see the determination, and I still see the pride of that community. A little girl, Hailey Dunn, has rallied the spirit of my old community, I hope she gets to come home and see it.