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OPINION: Five things you learn in the middle of a manhunt

We’ve all seen it a million times: a wanted man runs breathlessly through a wooded area pursued by howling dogs, dodging megawatt spotlights at just the right moments and deftly evading capture until the good guys show up and immediately apprehend him.

This is the scene we are used to seeing, the one at the end of all our favorite shows. It gets our blood pumping to see the good guys get the bad guys and everyone go home happy. But what about the extras? What about the people being shoved aside as the villain runs down a crowded street or the people in the houses attached to the backyard the fugitive darts through as he flees from authorities?

Wednesday night, I became an unnamed extra in one of these scenes when my entire town was locked down and flooded with local, state and federal law enforcement as a manhunt went underway to catch two armed and dangerous fugitives running through the town. Here’s what I learned:

News travels fast.

So fast, in fact, that it feels surreal. About halfway through my shift at a local hotel, a guest came to my desk and asked me if I heard gunshots. I told him I hadn’t heard anything unusual, but I would keep an eye on the news.

Within five minutes, there was a symphony of sirens as police cars from every precinct within a 15-mile radius rushed to a Shell gas station located 0.8 miles away from the hotel. Meanwhile, two helicopters appeared and began circling a wooded area across the street.

Almost immediately, I received a phone call from the Robertson County Sheriff’s office informing me that two armed fugitives were spotted at the Shell station, had fired shots at federal marshals and fled on foot. They told me that the entire city of White House was officially on lockdown. I was to lock all of the doors to the hotel and not let anyone in or out.

The faces on wanted posters go from afterthought to all-consuming thought in a hurry.

When I got the call placing us on lockdown, I asked if there was a description of the suspect in case I or any hotel guests saw anything.

I was told that the suspect in question was believed to be Floyd Ray Cook, a convicted rapist and violent criminal who is wanted for shooting police officers in both Tennessee and Kentucky.

When I looked at the wanted poster on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation website, I recognized his photo from multiple Facebook posts I had been ignoring for almost a week.

Within minutes, this obscure news story became a real person to me and the face I had scrolled past for days became one that I immediately committed to memory.

You aren’t as brave as you think you are.

Watching a manhunt on Criminal Minds is exciting. Hearing and seeing a manhunt unfold outside your window is scary.

Lockdown procedure at our hotel consists of securing all of the entrances, informing guests of the situation and watching security footage from a locked office.

As I watched the screens, I saw a group of armed-to-the-teeth police officers circle the building on foot, checking doors, cars and travel trailers in the parking lot.

These officers weren’t characters on a television show or a newscast. They were real people with real guns looking for a real man who was posing a threat to my entire community.

Finding people in the dark takes a lot longer than you would think.

White House is a small town consisting of fields, woods and a few subdivisions. The area is small enough that it would seem relatively simple to find a vastly outnumbered, elderly suspect traveling on foot.

I expected the lockdown and manhunt to last maybe an hour. It lasted almost five. From 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., the police pursued the subject through the area, shutting down roads and searching vehicles traveling through the area.

One of the suspects, Katie McCarty, was eventually apprehended with the help of local residents who spotted her and called the authorities.

The other suspect, later identified as Troy Wayne, was caught Thursday morning in the same neighborhood. Shortly after his capture, police called off the search and cleared the area of any danger, saying that McCarty and Wayne were the only suspects in the area.

When things finally happen in a town where nothing happens, the whole town will collectively lose their minds.

Despite the fact that the area-wide manhunt locked down an entire town of 10,000 people and involved several law enforcement agencies, there was relatively little news coverage of the event, particularly on television.

Most residents followed news updates on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to keep track of what was happening around them, which led to a flurry of unconfirmed rumors and very public reactions to the stress of the situation.

Area residents took to the comments section calling for the suspects’ immediate execution and spreading unconfirmed sightings and hearsay from friends and neighbors.

Driving home from work, every house I passed had all of their exterior lights on and many had people sitting on porches with rifles in hand.

When you live in a town with virtually no crime, you never expect events like this happen. But when you are collectively huddled in homes, stores, and restaurants waiting out a manhunt, you learn which of your neighbors are torch-and-pitchfork people, which are grab-their-Bible-and-talk-to-Jesus people and which are hide-in-a-locked-room-and-worry-about-their-dogs people.

Regardless of our reactions, we were all relieved when the sounds of sirens and helicopters receded and automated calls went out lifting the lockdown.

Today, White House is relatively back to normal, aside from the excited buzz of conversation that follows any major event.

In the wake of our community-wide brush with danger, we are all more aware of the reality of crime, we are all more conscious of our safety, and we all have conversation topics for the next several weeks.

This article was written by Hannah Garrett.

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