The road into Kaufman slithers past a barbecue shack with a chicken head on top, coiling around a sleepy town square marked by old brick facades and the venerable county courthouse.
It’s a quiet little community known for ranches and rural living, but in the last few months, all that has changed: The assassinations of two prosecutors and the district attorney’s wife have shaken this town’s peaceful existence, tainting its image and scarring its psyche with fear, then shock and disbelief.
“We’re not even at the point of PTSD,” said former Kaufman Mayor Paula Bacon. “We’re still in it. I woke up last night at 3, terrified, and I haven’t been back to sleep yet — because I heard noises.”
How does a community recover from the stigma of such tragedy? Is it enough to let time patch up the wounds?
In Kaufman County, local leaders are planning a pair of events that could start the process.
On Thursday, which communities nationwide have begun to denote as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, Kaufman County will honor its own; a week later will come a luncheon to acknowledge its employees’ work over the last few difficult months.
“The challenge for Kaufman and the region is not to let these events define them for a long time,” said Lisa LeMaster of The LeMaster Group, a Dallas firm that deals with perception management. “You don’t always want the stories to say, ‘Kaufman, comma, where two prosecutors were gunned down, comma.’”
Consider the commas these Texas names still bring to mind: Jasper, where James Byrd Jr. was chained to a pickup and dragged to his death in 1998. Mexia, the town where three black teens detained for marijuana possession drowned in officers’ custody 30 years ago.