It had to be a terrifying experience for Joe Hendrix and his fiancee. They’d just moved into a new home two weeks before, and at 4:00 AM Wednesday morning, someone knocked on the front door, then tried to open it. Hendrix’s fiancee called 911, and he armed himself with a .40 S&W pistol.
After ten minutes law enforcement officers had still not arrived. Hendrix opened the back door and went outside. Why he made this decision isn’t clearly explained in any of the accounts presented so far.
What we do know is that when Hendrix entered the back yard he encountered a figure in the darkness and raised his gun. He issued commands including a command to stop, but the figure kept coming closer, with something in his hands, without saying a word. Hendrix fired four shots. One of them struck the figure in the chest. The figure—a man—crumpled to the ground, and there he lay until the coroner took his body away mid-morning.
The figure that had knocked on the door, tried to turn the door handle, and who kept coming in the darkness, was Ronald Westbrook.
Westbrook was a 72-year-old Air Force veteran who was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Hendrix could not have known at the time.
Westbrook had been wandering for hours in 20-degree temperatures, and was three miles from home. Authorities speculate that Westbrook was drawn to the front porch light of Hendrix’s home on an otherwise darkened street. His dementia had left him slow to speak (some say mute), and he was probably both very confused and exhausted.
The local sheriff went to church with Mr. Westbrook and knows his family. He acknowledges that Mr. Hendrix had every right to be in his yard, and every right to fire his gun at a figure in the dark that kept coming towards him without saying a word. One of his own deputies might have even dropped the proverbial ball, having stopped Westbrook at 2:30 AM, but let him continue wandering.
It’s hard to argue that Westbrook was a threat, but just as hard to claim that Hendrix shouldn’t have felt threatened when a darkened figure refused to listen to the warning that Hendrix was armed and that he should stop coming closer.
The media is already lining up to blame Georgia’s version of the stand-your ground law, a law journalists don’t understand any more than they understand anything else about firearms.
The media doesn’t ask why a man with advanced dementia was left in a situation where he could wander around for hours without being missed. They don’t ask how the situation might have been resolved if the deputy who encountered Westbrook at 2:30 AM had been more curious about an old man doddering along alone in the dark on a frigid night. The media doesn’t bother to ask if the situation would have ended any differently at all if the responding deputies encountered Westbrook lurching toward them in the dark. They don’t ask if he was already well along the way towards dying from exposure after being in 20 degree temperatures for four hours in his delicate state.
No, there is a law to scapegoat! For the media, that is all that really matters in a profession that is far more interested in promoting political propaganda that it is reporting inconvenient details surrounding an unfortunate event.