It is difficult to conceive a more heart-wrenching tragedy than that which struck an Alexandria family on Wednesday. Just eight years old, Kevin Shifflett was snatched from them as suddenly as can be when an apparently total stranger stabbed him to death in broad daylight. There was no warning that danger was imminent. The residential neighborhood was peaceful and quiet with children playing in front of the home where little Kevin’s great-grandparents live. East Custis Avenue betrayed no signs that a deadly crime was about to be committed. The minds of the country have been occupied with the sad anniversary milestones of the Columbine shootings and the Oklahoma City bombing in the past week, giving the nation plenty of opportunity to think about the uncertainty of the human condition, of which this killing was an instance.
No mere words can asuage the grief that the family endures. Nonetheless, even such acts of madness and violence are attended by light as well as darkness. It is hard to conclude otherwise but that the murderer was seized by insanity. There does not seem to have been any motive for the crime, no logic to the choice of victim. The savageness of the attack itself was stunning. Furthermore, the suspect simply walked away, proceeding down the street with nonchalance, feeling impervious to capture.
Still, good has been in evidence, too. The boy’s great-grandmother tried heroically to protect him, as did a total stranger who ran across the street to intervene. Both women were stabbed in the assault and ended up in the hospital with knife wounds. There has been an outpouring of sympathy and concern from all over Alexandria from neighbors and law enforcement alike. Money is coming into the fund set up by city officials to help defray the Shifflett family’s expenses, and for a bounty to capture the killer. Police officers have volunteered for duty to help pound the pavement of the city until the suspect is found and in custody, and Mayor Kerry J. Donley has stated that “right now, it’s the only priority in the city.” That is as it should be.
Kevin will be laid to rest today at the Del Ray Baptist Church. But there can be no respite for those trying to take his killer off the streets. Parents all over Alexandria, who are keeping an anxious and watchful eye on their own children now, hope that for the sake of Kevin’s family and for the sake of the safety of everyone else, the killer will be apprehended without delay.