LINCOLN -- The recent hostage situation in a downtown Alliance business begs the question of where people who are otherwise unaccustomed to such violent activity can turn for some help and understanding that will lead to healing.
This Panhandle community of 9,000 people, better known nationally for its quirky tourist attraction of Carhenge and its sprawling Burlington Northern coal train switching yards, was thrust into the national spotlight on June 12 when an armed young man entered a local pharmacy in the heart of downtown and demanded drugs from the pharmacist who has long been a business leader. A police officer summoned by a silent alarm from the store was shot and wounded when he confronted the robber and a daylong standoff that crippled the community began.
Employees of the combined Chamber of Commerce, Main Street program and economic development group watched as events unfolded across the street and called businesses urging them to lock their doors and stay inside as more police converged on the scene. Reports of the incident filtered out from various shopkeepers, some of whom kept media updated with telephone reports. A State Patrol SWAT team soon became the controlling agency and ended the ordeal several hours after the hostage pharmacist fled the building and was wounded.
In the end, SWAT members stormed the business and the armed young man was killed. The popular pharmacy and gift shop became a crime scene and the cordoned-off downtown slowly returned to what could be extracted of normal sometime the next day as business owners and residents alike worked through their disbelief and shock of the daylong event that drew national headlines.
State Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, who represents Alliance, said he shares what most people are thinking, that this was "a senseless tragedy."
As for the resources available to help smaller communities in these situations, it is a relevant question.
"The biggest issue for a community such as Alliance would be how to pay for the investigation and the damage caused by the standoff. As for individuals involved, I would suspect that they will be able to find the support they need. They may need to travel for this, but we in rural Nebraska are used to traveling for many things," Schilz said.
"Nebraskans pull together in times of need," he said. "I am confident in the ability of the good folks of Alliance to weather this storm and get back to a more normal lifestyle."