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A very different view of a friends life

GAYS MILLS - In writing this, I realize many readers will see me as giving ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ as it were, but when I picked up last week’s Independent-Scout, I felt moved to sadness after reading the headline, ‘Swadley gets 30 years in prison.’ You see Shayne Swadley was someone I considered a friend.

I am sharing my views of the person I knew, because I don’t think he deserves to go down in history as a ‘modern day Jack the Ripper.’ The person in the trailer that night in May was not the same Shayne Swadley that walked this earth for 22 years before that night. Nor was he the same man who was standing before Judge Sharp on January 26, accepting his fate. The man in the trailer that night was another victim of drug addiction.

Many of us have been following this horrible, horrific story since the moment it occurred. I remember the exact place I was, almost two years ago, when I got the news that Shayne had stabbed Christine Mazilauskas in a trailer near DeSoto.

I had run into a gas station in Viroqua. It was one of the first times; we had our infant out in the world—Thatcher having just been born about a couple of weeks previous. When I got back into Chasca’s truck, he was putting his phone down with a look of shock on his face. He had received a call from another friend who broke the news about Shayne.

“Whatever, that’s not even funny,” I said to him, not even believing what he had just told me. I hopped on the Internet from the convenience of my handheld device. I was determined to prove him wrong. Unfortunately, I quickly found I would not be able to do that.

I’m afraid the person who committed that horrific crime in the trailer near the banks of the mighty Mississippi was just a shell of the person I knew. The crime is also a reminder to me of how life is sometimes fragile in ways we least expect.

 I knew Shayne a bit growing up through his family members and just plainly for the fact that the Kickapoo Valley is a small place. It would be several more years until I’d run into him again and become friends with him. Shayne grew accustomed to stopping by our house in Readstown just to visit or to go on some kind of adventure.

The Shayne I knew before his life took such a dark turn was a softhearted, extremely humorous and talented mechanic. He was an incredibly honest and caring person. The Shayne I knew wanted to know what it felt like to jump a four-wheeler over the Kickapoo, not what it felt like to stab someone.

Shayne also carried a lot of emotional pain from years of tough love and even harder experiences as a child.

Is this all an excuse for what he did? No. But, I believe it did contribute to the dark path he found himself on before that fateful night in May of 2016.

Shayne is a perfect example of someone struggling with addiction that gets overlooked until it’s too late. 

At the end of his freedom, Shayne was living on the frayed edges of society and crawling along its underbelly with an assortment of urchins, addicts and other misfits. It’s a group that seems to be in a constant state of breaking the law and getting released, only to step back out and reoffend.

The last time I had seen Shayne was a couple of months before his meth-fueled attack on Christine. He was working on cleaning up his life the best he could.

Ironically, Shayne told me the last time I saw him, “I’m off of drugs now, so I’ll be able to be around the baby when it gets here.” I remember he had a huge grin on his face.

Shayne was sincere, and hopeful. I was happy for him. Admittedly, I had no idea how bad things really were for him.

Not seeing him for periods of time wasn’t unusual. He had many friends and would come and go, stopping by for a quick visit to recap something humorous and take off for his next adventure.

The last thing I would have thought was occupying his time was being left in LaCrosse by Wade Hirschfield, someone whose not only old enough to be his father but has also known him his whole life. Learning about how Wade paid him in meth and left him to walk to Iowa disgusted me.

Then again, Wade is just an addict too it seems judging by his conviction record, he just manages to get back out on the street, and given the opportunity to spread the problem rather than the opportunity for help to get clean. 

There is no doubt that the brutal emotional and physical injuries Christine suffered that night call out for punishment. There is no doubt that what Shayne did was wrong. But there are questions, at least for me.

What about the other people who were in the trailer when this incident went down, why did they flee? If you see someone with their throat slit and stab wounds to their body, why would you run unless you too had something so serious to hide, you would risk their death? Why weren’t the others, like Wade who helped mold Shayne into an addict and brought him to this home, also put under a microscope for this trial? Why can 10 years ago another man in the community beat someone to death and only receive a 12-year sentence? Why did this happen?

I am upset that this happened to Christine and I am also upset that this happened to Shayne. I am sad neither of them will ever live a normal life again. And, I am puzzled by the events as a whole.

So, how can we as a community learn from what Shayne and the others involved did? How can we stop this cycle of addiction? How can we stop over looking this massive problem in our backyard? How can we make sure there are no more victims like Christine, and yes, Shayne. What can we do?

Those are the questions that keep going through my mind. However, there is no going back, there is no stepping in, there is no help to be offered, there is only a life behind bars for one person, and lots of pain and stress for the victim of the attack. And, who knows what anyone else involved might be struggling to resolve.

I, along with many who know him, wish we would have done more to help Shayne Swadley. Because in knowing him I know Charley’s words to be true, “It would seem that there has been little or no mercy shown to Shayne Swadley in his 24 years on this earth.”

 If the people in our community who we know are struggling with addiction to drugs got the help they needed, would we find ourselves sitting at our kitchen table reading Shayne’s story? We will never know for certain, but something tells me that night would have had a completely different outcome had ALL the parties involved been sober.

There is without a shadow of a doubt hundreds of more people in our tri-county area, perhaps thousands, struggling with addiction to meth.

 As this incident shows, it doesn’t take much to change one of the kindest people you know into a shell of who they once were—capable of committing a crime so horrific it is hard to describe in words.