Family, law enforcement attend hearing

Family members of one of the victims in last week's shootings in Missoula and Evaro sit in court Monday backed by dozens of law enforcement officers from the Montana Highway Patrol and other jurisdictions, for the initial appearance of Johnathan Bertsch, 28, charged with one count of deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide.

It says something wonderful that so many people responded to an act of senseless violence in Missoula last week with an ongoing outpouring of support for the four victims and their families.

Some of the folks who stepped up know the people who were shot, either personally or professionally. Others know the victims only in passing. Many more don’t know them at all. Yet the generosity of these caring individuals — shown in words, in deeds and in financial donations — was immediate, and shows no sign of subsiding.

Families, neighbors and coworkers are still reeling from the events that unfolded late last Thursday night and Friday morning.

In the end, Shelley Hays had been shot to death. A GoFundMe page set up in his name notes that he leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter, among many other loved ones.

Both Julie Blanchard and her son, Casey Blanchard, were shot but survived.

And about an hour after they were wounded, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer was also shot as he alerted dispatch that he had located the suspect’s vehicle and had come under fire.

According to a Faceook fundraising page, Julie Blanchard underwent surgery for her wounds. Casey Blanchard was airlifted to a hospital in Salt Lake City, where his condition has not yet been made public. Palmer is also receiving care in Salt Lake City, where Utah law enforcement have maintained a vigil outside his hospital room.

The shooting suspect is in police custody, charged with three counts of attempted deliberate homicide and one count of deliberate homicide.

Immediately following the shootings and every day after, social media teemed with prayers and offers of assistance for the victims and their loved ones. Within a handful of days, each of the Facebook requests and official GoFundMe accounts set up to provide some amount of financial relief for their families was nearly filled or overflowing — and pledges of further aid continue to pour in. In Missoula, people lined the route from the hospital to the airport as Palmer and Blanchard were transported, holding aloft blue flags and handmade signs.

Hundreds of people have now made a donation, and thousands more have shared their sincere condolences. Truly, it would be impossible to list the names of everyone who helped make this time of tragedy a little easier to bear — but they didn’t do it for fame or recognition anyway.

They did it to help heal, in whatever measure they could, the pain and loss of this tragedy. They did it to ensure no act of evil succeeds in fracturing a united community — a community that includes neighborhoods in Missoula and in Stevensville, friends in Montana and in Utah, members of law enforcement and perfect strangers alike.

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