Wednesday's shooting death of Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum sent shockwaves that traveled far beyond Williamson. Crum, who took office in January, was shot at point-blank range as he sat in his patrol car eating his lunch in Williamson.
A suspect, 37-year-old Tennis Melvin Maynard, was later shot by deputies after a car chase. Little information has been released about Maynard other than he underwent surgery at a Huntington hospital.
Crum was a former Mingo County Magistrate Court judge. He had long been a passionate enemy of the drug dealers and pill mill operators in his county. During his short time in office, he and his officers had been actively involved in a drug eradication effort in the county that had resulted in the indictment of dozens of suspected drug dealers.
There is no information at present to know whether or not those efforts contributed to his death. However, his killing is the latest in what seems to be an open season on law enforcement officials. Since January, several officials have been shot and killed, including two district attorneys and even a prison official.
By the nature of their jobs, law enforcement officers put themselves in potentially dangerous situations every day. However, they are seldom the targets of an assassination. While this may be common in places like Mexico, where drug cartels routinely order the killings of police officials, it has been rare in the United States.
Why is it growing now? Possibly for many of the same reasons violence in general is growing - the increasing drug problem in this country and the money it brings to dealers.
Whatever the reason, the targeted killing of law enforcement officers is a dangerous step toward anarchy. The people who are willing to kill officers are trying to use fear as a weapon. And if it can happen in Mingo County, it can happen anywhere - including here.
Police officers are society's first line of defense. If officers become targets of killers, than war has been declared on society. The law enforcement community, including prosecutors, should be given the tools they need to win this war. This should include the death penalty for people who deliberately target police officers.
And if the state Legislature is unwilling to take this step, these incidents should be considered a terrorist attack - and a federal crime where the death penalty could be imposed.