Monday, July 16, 2007

Hate and compassion: violence and cooperation

Terry Mangum, 26, spent hours studying the Bible. He says: “I love God.” He says he was “called by God to be a prophet.” And in the hours he spent reading the Bible he knew what it said: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

Kenneth Cummings, Jr., worked for Southwest Airlines since he was 22 years old. In the two dozen years that he worked for the airline he saved his money and set up college funds for his niece and nephew. On June 4 he went to a gay club in Houston, E.J.’s. It was there he met Terry Mangum.

Cummings thought Mangum was there for the same reason he was, to meet another gay man. Mangum, however, was on a mission from God, or so he said. Mangum wanted to carry out God’s word and that meant sinners like Cummings had to be executed for “sexual perversion” just as the Bible says. Mangum said it was his plan to kill a gay man and Cummings “just happened to be the one that I bumped into.”

As Mangum said: “I planned on sending him to hell.” When Cummings invited Mangum to go home with him the “prophet” was happy to do so. It would be there that he could safely carry out his mission. He stabbed Cummings to death.

After the brutal murder he stuffed Cummings body in the trunk of a car and drove out to a ranch owned by his elderly grandfather. Along the way he stopped and used the dead man’s credit card to buy lighter fluid, a flashlight and hydrogen peroxide.

Mangum poured lighter fluid on the body and set it alight and then buried it in a shallow grave. Mangum says that he believes “in his heart” that what he did that day was right.

A private, non profit, volunteer organization, Texas EquuSearch, got involved in the case. EquuSearch founder Tim Miller was told that Cummings credit cards had been used. He then found out that Mangum’s grandfather had a ranch a few miles away. Without any power to search property involuntarily Miller had to ask permission. He explained to Robert Mangum what he believed had happened. The 90-year-old man said to Miller: “If what you tell me is true, I’ll never have another birthday.” He granted permission for the search and later identified his grandson for the police.

Miller said: “I just knew we were going to find his body out there.” With 50 acres Miller organized a volunteer team of 600 people. Among the volunteers were many flight attendants. One was Jill Van der Werff who explained: “Because he was a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines for several years, he knows so many people across so many boundaries. The people that flew with him loved him.” Another flight attendant who participated in the search, Scott Wells, said: “He was a very giving person. As soon as you met him, he felt like one of those people you’ve known for a long time.”

EquuSearch was founded by Tim Miller after his daughter was abducted and murdered. Funded entirely by corporate sponsors and individual donors EquuSearch. Membership is open to any one over the age of 18 who is not a convicted felon. Miller’s experience with the police forced him to take action.

When Laura Miller disappeared her father went to the police. He was especially concerned since, only a few months earlier, the remains of a young woman had been found not far away. Miller wrote:
I told the police officer taking the report of my concerns, and would they please check the area where she had been found, or tell me where it was located so that I might check myself. Of course they said Laura was sixteen, she ran away and will be coming back home.
Miller told the police that his daughter had problems with seizures and required medication. She knew this and wouldn’t run away without her medicine, which was still at home. Police told him that girls her age are smart and can find what they want on the streets. Miller found that explanation bizarre.

Three days later Miller discovered that the young girl who had been found had lived only four blocks away. “So I went back to the police station to tell them my new worries about the close location of our houses...” He was told to go home and wait; that eventually his daughter would call home and he will see that he was worrying about nothing. He asked the police to reveal the location where the other girl had been found so he could do his own search. The police refused to tell him.

Miller did wait. For almost two years he continued to pester the police, asking them to do their job. He was dismissed every time. Miller was depressed and became suicidal. He sought hospitalization because of the seriousness of the situation. It was there that he finally learned the truth.

Some kids on dirt bikes smelled something in the field one day while Miller was in the hospital. When they went to see what it was they discovered a body of a young woman. It was not Laura, but when police finally investigated, they found Laura’s body not far away. So in two years, three young girls were killed and their bodies dumped in the same location. There was a serial killer in the area and the inactivity of the police allowed him to continue.

Even then Miller couldn’t find closure. Police kept his daughter’s remains for three years. They refused to tell him where the body had been found. He and his wife walked the fields until they found the markers for a crime scene. Finally, when the remains were released for burial, the family discovered they had only been given 28 bones. The other bones had been given to a research facility without permission from the family. Miller sued and won a $16 million settlement. That got the attention of the police. They appealed and Miller told them he would drop the case if they simply returned the remains of his daughter for burial.

He then learned that his daughter had been at a pay phone when she disappeared. To make matters worse the first missing girl had disappeared from the same pay phone. Miller realized that had the police taken his first complaint seriously they might have noticed the connection.

The trauma of the experience wrecked Miller’s family. In addition to the suicidal depression, he took to drinking. His wife left him. He sought out help and began volunteering in other cases of missing people. It was then that he got involved in the search for Laura Smither.

Laura’s father, Bob Smither, is a Libertarian Party activist and believes in the power of private co-operation to solve problems. He and his wife, Gay, founded the Laura Recovery Center to assist in the search for missing persons. The Center is also an entirely private organization that takes no tax funding.

One day Miller was working with Smither at the Center when they started talking. Smither suggested to Miller that since he was an avid horseman, he might be able to organize a volunteer horseback search team. Miller agreed and word was spread. Soon Miller had 45 people regularly attending monthly meetings.

But some volunteers didn’t have horses. But they had boats, planes, and even helicopters. Others had all-terrain vehicles with night vision and infrared equipment. Some were certified rescue divers.

Out of his own frustration with the police, and from Bob Smither’s libertarian vision for solving problems, Texas EquuSearch was born. It now has 2,500 members and has helped people, not just in Texas, but around the world. Miller says that their goal is that “no family has to experience the feeling of hopelessness and loneliness if a loved one should ever disappear.” It is a mission they take seriously and one they perform long after the police have moved on to other matters.

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