My heart aches for Odessa, where a newspaper career began 36 years ago

Heartbroken for the people and neighbors of Odessa, Texas, where I spent the first four years of my newspaper career as a sports writer for The Odessa American after graduating from Texas A&M in 1983. More lives shattered by a gun, including a teenage girl who had her whole life still to seize. More children left without parents. Another example for future killers of how to go about killing.

These horrific scenes will just keep replaying, an LP on endless kill, kill, kill repeat. Because we’re never going to come up with the solutions to save us. We’re. Just. Not. This country is too divided, too unable to listen to one another, too focused on the issues as we see them and as we believe they should play out, no matter the cost, in lives or in irreversible impact on our children’s and grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s future.

Odessa’s a fine place, full of rock-solid people of every color, a blue-collar city in oil country where folks sweat and dedicate themselves to every task, in the oilfields, in the schools, at the hospitals, playing football and cheering football players. Over the past 40 years, the oil industry’s triumphs and lumps have been the city’s as well.

I’ve always joked about the flatness and lack of trees and water in West Texas. Having grown up in the Houston area, where there are overloads of both, it was quite an eye-opener when I flew to Midland-Odessa for my job interview 36 years ago and was shocked to see how desolate the area seemed. I’d never seen a tumbleweed or a dust devil, but I saw plenty while driving up U.S. 385 through Andrews, Seminole and other outposts on the way to Lubbock to cover the occasional Texas Tech football game.

In those West Texas flatlands lies a rugged, brushy beauty that can grow on even a blind outsider like me. I loved those four years in Odessa, covering high school football, basketball and track, junior college basketball and track, minor-league baseball — and, of course, mighty Permian High Mojo football (well, they once were mighty). After covering smaller schools and writing up untold numbers of called-in and tracked-down games on Friday nights back at the office for two years, I earned the privilege of covering Permian for one glorious season in 1985, when the Panthers made it to the state final at Texas Stadium before losing big to Houston Yates.

West Texans were awfully good to me, a kid just trying to figure out what the heck he was doing.

Like any city of 100,000, we had our share of crime in Odessa. The year I got to town, a national anti-handgun group named it the “homicide capital of America,” thanks to the city’s 1982 murder rate of 29.8 per 100,000 residents. Second place went to Miami.

But we didn’t live in the environment of violence and fear holding our country hostage today. The term “mass shooting” didn’t exist while I lived in Odessa from June 1983 to April 1987, when I moved over 300 miles east for a new job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Just as they were when I lived there over 30 years ago, Odessans are a strong lot. They will grieve, they will pray, they will question why, and they will hold one another in a loving and protective embrace. And they’ll do their best to be ever on their guard, for their families and for their city.

Take care, Jackrabbit Capital of Texas. I’m so sorry this has happened to you.

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