Thanksgiving, America's homegrown national holiday, stands out for honoring the precious native people who welcomed the settlers and helped them in their time of need. It stands as a testament to the gratitude that we all share for the abundant blessings we have in our lives. However, in some cases, Thanksgiving reminds us of the hidden perils of ingratitude and the untold horrors that can result when we fail to honor and thank our creator.
One such tragedy has weighed heavily upon the national conscience in recent days, after law enforcement officials in Pike Country, Ohio, finally arrested suspects in connection with the murders of eight family members, which had stumped investigators for over two years. The Pike County murders of a mother, father, three children, a cousin, and two other relatives, all killed in their sleep in carefully planned attacks over the course of one evening, were long thought to be related to the drug trade in which the family had long been engaged. It was even rumored that Mexican cartels, angered by the family's small marijuana grow operations, had perhaps shown up in rural Ohio and executed the dastardly plot.
But as time went on and nary a Mexican emerged as a suspect, law enforcement officials began to think that the culprits might be closer to home. Sophia Wagner was just 2 years old when prosecutors say that her father joined the group of people who killed her mother and seven other family members. The entire Wagner family, including George "Billy" Wagner III; his wife, Angela Wagner; and their sons, George Wagner IV and Jake Wagner, was arrested last week. Each was charged with eight counts of aggravated murder and all are facing the death penalty. Charging documents cite a bitter child custody dispute over Sophia Wagner, not drug-related activities, as the primary motive for the crimes.
One might ask why eight members of a family need to die in order to secure custody of one child. Well, this is where things get particularly evil. Prosecutors allege that all eight needed to die because they might have had a claim to Sophia's custody in the event that her mother died. (She was killed in the mass murder). Therefore, in order to secure custody of Sophia, the Wagners took out anyone who might conceivably have a custody claim.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but in this case, even a tiny bit of foresight might have helped. How in the world did these people believe that they would be able to get away with committing eight murders in a single family across three crime scenes? In the ensuing two years before last week's arrest, the Wagner family faced intense suspicion among community members of tight-knit Pike County. So much so that at one point, they even moved to Alaska to try to escape the scrutiny. Was the overreaction to a custody dispute worth all of the inconvenience and stress the accused faced?
Now that they have all been caught (including the grandmothers of the accused, who have been charged as accessories after the fact), what will their relationship with Sophia be going forward? Likely, they will never see or speak to Sophia again, and they will each end up in solitary prison cells until their appeals have been exhausted or until they die in prison -- alone, on death row, shamed, condemned and alone. The details of this tawdry tale are sure to emerge as the trial approaches, but the lesson is clear: Be thankful for what you have and avoid the temptation to covet the possessions of others.
The Wagners forgot the fundamental law of gratitude, which is always to be grateful for the blessings we have in our lives. In forgetting this fundamental lesson, the Wagners ended up committing one of the worst atrocities in the annals of American crime. Not only did they destroy the Rhoden family, they also ended up destroying themselves in the process. I cannot imagine the train of thought that allowed them to believe that they could ever live in peace after committing such acts, regardless of whether the law caught up with them or not. To think that they really believed they could provide a safe and loving environment for Sophia after committing such dastardly deeds against her mother and her family seems far-fetched and delusional.
This Thanksgiving, let's keep things in perspective. No matter what our differences -- personal, political and familial -- let us give thanks to our creator for the richness of our lives. Let us, above all, not lose sight of the sanctity and fragility of human life.