WAHNETA, FLReading this, I realized that I honestly didn't have the ability to say something meaningful and hopeful. I can't possibly honor this man's life, as I didn't know him; I can't explain his death to my eldest sons, who are asking why I am crying; I can't think of what to say to readers who live elsewhere and are undoubtedly shaking their heads, wondering, yet again, What the hell is up with Florida?
Nothing about the brutal killing of Ryan Keith Skipper makes sense to Stephanie Strickland.
Ever since a Polk County sheriff's detective came to her door at noon March 15 and informed her of her good friend's death, she has been struggling to understand what happened to him, and why.
"He's the best friend I ever had in my whole life," she said. "I never thought something like this could happen to someone so kind."
Even while talking with the detective, Strickland kept looking out the window of her Auburndale home, expecting Skipper's new powder blue Chevrolet Aveo to come down the road. They were supposed to have lunch, then run errands together - a rare idyllic afternoon for both. She has a 3-year-old daughter; he has done little else besides work and study since enrolling in Traviss Career Center's information technology program about four or five months ago.
"I just fell apart," she said. "It still feels like somebody just told me."
Skipper, 25, was found stabbed to death by the side of Morgan Road near 19th Street West in Wahneta by a passing driver about 1:20 a.m. March 15. Deputies have arrested William David Brown Jr., 20, and Joseph Bearden, 21, charging them with first-degree murder and declaring the slaying a hate crime. A witness told detectives Skipper was killed because he was gay.
We're a sad state much of the time, a place where the sunlight and glitter too often distort our worldview. Besotted with our permanent summer and aided and abetted by local media devoted to the myth of Florida The Fabulous, we don't always notice the flecks of mud and droplets of rank cruelty splattered around us; we aren't always aware of the countless inexcusable acts of violence that occur here around the clock, that descend like nightmares, always consuming our gentlest souls. Always shocking when viewed--too late--in the full glare and heat of day.
In this case, it was Ryan Keith Skipper, age 25, who lost his life because two inhuman criminals decided he should die for being gay. Next week, it will be someone else--someone else who's gay, or someone foreign, or someone small and unable to defend her tender two-year-old skull from the blows of another Florida monster.
Mandatory minimums (of prison time) would seem to apply to drug offenders, but the old revolving door policy remains in effect for violent offenders.
Thus, violence and hate don't take vacations here--they're permanent residents.
A vigil in Palm Beach (and possibly other Florida cities) for April 14th is in the works; it will hopefully call attention to the unconscionable number of violent crimes perpetrated against Florida's LGBT community. I'll post details as they become available.