There are six churches between Batesville and the spot where five were murdered just over one year ago. Turning off of U.S. 52 onto Stipps Hill Road, a German shepherd on the loose and a sign stating “Enjoy Franklin County Safe and Sober” greet you.
Trees and fields line the narrow, curving road. A dry creek bed, weathered barns and a new bridge dot the landscape.
Houses range from modest to nice, and all are tidy. There is a wooden cow in the front of one and a No Trespassing sign at another. Although their addresses are in Laurel, this is nowhere near the town, but rather a remote part of the county.
The stillness at Stipps Hill Cemetery is punctuated by dogs barking and cows mooing. Many gravestones say Gone But Not Forgotten.
Surely many do remember the fatal shootings Sept. 25, 2011, of a family (Roy Napier, 50, his estranged wife Angela Napier, 47, and their children Melissa Napier, 23, and Jacob Napier, 18) in their home at 24015 Stipps Hill Road and their neighbor, Henry X. Smith, 43, found outside across the road.
The news spread as far as England, recalls Sheriff Ken Murphy, and was reported in USA Today.
The killings happened just a stone’s throw from where the quintet were buried. The Napiers’ driveway and mobile home are not visible from the road. There is a smashed black mailbox with no number on it.
Near the cemetery sign, five wooden crosses are surrounded by stuffed animals and silk flowers. Those indicate the four Napiers and someone buried since their deaths. Smith’s grave is close to his mother’s plot in a separate part of the cemetery, according to caretaker Mike Peters.
None have gravestones just yet.
The victims are as anonymous now as they were famous in the weeks after the crimes.
“It was just sad, really sad,” says Bonnie Thomas, who lives perhaps a five-minute drive away. She worries what a small child found wandering in the road after the shootings witnessed and how much she will remember.
Thomas was uneasy during the three days after the killings before convicted murderer David Ison, then 46, Glenwood, was captured on U.S. 52 in Andersonville. When police approached her home at that time, “I didn’t go to the door. I didn’t know who was out there.” Even now she is cautious. “I keep my doors locked. I keep my bedroom door locked.”
Ison’s attorney told the court during his sentencing hearing that the defendant was high on drugs when he entered the Napier home to purchase the narcotic painkiller oxycodone from Roy Napier. A police investigation determined the men may have fought over the price before Ison started shooting.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Steven Cox sentenced the career criminal to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Drugs are dangerous to people who use them, people who buy them and they are inherently dangerous to our community,” the sheriff maintains.
“You’re dealing with people in a dangerous business who may be under the influence of drugs. You’re dealing with people handling cash who carry guns to keep from being ripped off.”
Murphy has read that for every pound of marijuana that comes into the U.S., somebody has lost his or her life.
Reflecting on a year ago, he notes, “We clearly know who committed the crimes and why and it’s done. From my perspective and the community’s, it’s time to move on .... There’s been a lot of healing ... I think our ministerial association and our pastors have done a good job with both families. This was a lose-lose-lose situation.”
Have more gun permits than usual been issued in the past year? “We didn’t see a spike (afterwards),” the sheriff answers. “There aren’t many (residents) who aren’t gun owners .... everybody’s got a shotgun and a rifle. Everybody hunts, grew up outdoors.” He says gun sales are rising nationwide and provides two reasons, fear of future federal regulations, limiting what can be purchased, and the fatal shootings of a dozen in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, which was more random than this incident.
During the recent National Night Out in Laurel, “we had a great crowd,” he reports. One woman was interested in a neighborhood watch program there. He advised, “Get to know your neighbors and who’s supposed to be where when.”
Throughout the area, Franklin County Sheriff’s Department deputies “would be more than happy to help them start programs or meet with people and give them security tips.”
Being the site of a mass killing is “the type of thing that tests you,” Murphy admits. He believes the county is a safe place to be. “We’re still the great community we were before.”
Laurel resident Anita Gay said the murders should have taught residents “not to get involved in drugs, but they still do. This town is nothing but drugs,” reminiscing about a series of fatal overdoses several years ago.
Since the tragedy, “I don’t think there’s been a big change” in people’s habits or how they protect themselves, says Peters, who lives about a mile away from the crime scene. He is not worried. “We have a watch dog that’s very alert and aggressive and we have people who live close to us.
“You know this was all drug related. We don’t have a major drug problem in our area,” but he added neighbors knew drug deals were occurring nearby. “People speculated something like this was going to happen ....
“I’ve seen more drugs in the last 10 years through here than probably the rest of my life. When the economy goes down, people seek different ways to make a living, which is sad. We’re not immune from life in the big city.”