A True Crime blog showcasing daily true crime stories, missing people and cold cases...

Aug 15, 2011

My old high school -- no longer in this good of shape.
I grew up in Hackleburg, Alabama for the most important years of my life. I went to the elementary school, and I attended the high school. Although I left before I would have graduated, I was part of the class of 2002. It was a small town -- very small -- home to only roughly 1,000 people. All I could remember while living there was that jobs were scarce, even during the Clinton years. You either worked at Indy's House manufacturing trailers, or you worked at the Wrangler Plant, which eventually closed down. Otherwise there was a grocery store, dollar store, drug store, a couple of gas stations and a butt-load of churches. Hackleburg, Alabama was tiny, the home of Sonny James, my fourth or fifth cousin. For those of you who aren't aware of who Sonny James is, well, he's a country singer who had a few crossover hits back in the good ole days. He's in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Anyway, the correlation I am making between him and Hackleburg is the welcome sign once you enter the town. When I was 10 years old, and I first moved there, it was the first thing I noticed about the town.

Sonny JamesCover of Sonny James
My cousin, Sonny James

'Welcome to Hackleburg, Alabama; Home of Sonny James!'

When I was 10, and moving from the Phoenix area of Arizona to Hackleburg, Alabama, I had no clue who Sonny James was. My grandfather had to tell me he was my cousin and what he was famous for. I guess I always kind of thought it was cool that I was related to someone that had a town welcome sign dedicated to him, as quaint as the town may be. 

Anyway, that quaint little town suddenly became famous on April 29, 2011 after a series of tornadoes ripped through the southern United States. My hometown of Hackleburg, Alabama was completely demolished by an F5 tornado. During my years in Hackleburg, I never ever saw an F5 tornado. I had seen several funnel clouds and even had to hide in my basement once or twice due to the tornado warning sirens sounding throughout the town.

  Those sirens -- they kind of sound like those old war sirens ya know?

I saw the movie "Twister," starring Helen Hunt when I lived in Hackleburg. I must have been around 10 or 11 years old. The F5 tornado at the finale' of the movie was terrifying and amazing to me; especially on the big screen. 

However, never in a million years was I prepared to hear that a true F5 ripped through Hackleburg during a series of tornadoes that touched down throughout the state, and others. An F5, in case you weren't aware, is the largest, most destructive type of tornado on the scale. The tornado, reportedly, was about a mile wide. The town didn't stand a chance once it touched down on the ground. It ripped through one side of the town and out the other, leaving nothing but rubble in its path. The following aerial video of Hackleburg, AL shows the complete state of destruction the town is in right now. Where houses once stood, nothing but their foundations and debris remain. The elementary school I attended as a child is completely roofless, torn to shreds and my old high school is in shambles. The grocery store, Piggly Wiggly (or "The Pig,"), is gone and so is the dollar store and pharmacy.

News reports say that an estimated 30 people are dead, and many are missing; However, the majority of the town has survived. Still, the town only had a small number of body bags, and have run out. They are in severe need of help and feel alone. I am in shock.

I haven't been to Hackleburg in a good decade or so, but I still have family and friends there. I still stay in contact with high school friends via social networking even though I am in Las Vegas, Nevada now. Well, now I can't get in touch with any of those friends or cousins. Communication is down in the town and so many people are unaccounted for -- it's scary, and sobering. I find myself looking back at my childhood town, looking at the aerial video of something that resembles a war zone. I feel cold inside. It's like a part of my childhood has left forever. The tornado even took the kudzu, which used to literally infest the town. The kudzu grew over everything there, to the point of it being a pest to those who lived there. Now, it's hardly noticeable, as if it was uprooted with the trees and buildings on which it grew. Hackleburg is a different place, one that I can hardly recognize. 

As I write this I find myself hoping that my family members and childhood friends are safe in their storm cellars and basements, waiting to be rescued from beneath the rubble; but I also know that in reality, we may never find those who are missing. The situation is grim and I am still in shock, but I find myself reminiscing about my childhood, my friends, walking through the town to the dollar store during the summertime when I had a few extra dollars with my cousin Crystal. Going to pep rallies in the school gymnasium during football season, eating lunch in the lunchroom with all of my friends that I didn't have the same classes as me, etc etc etc -- but these places are gone and don't look like they will easily be rebuilt. All I have now are my childhood memories, and I find myself wondering if that old welcome sign is even still standing

Aug 14, 2011

I've always been one to to enjoy the macabre. Since I was a child, barely in elementary school, I have had this love affair with all things horror. As an adult, nothing has changed. The following is a sort of memoir and homage to an entire genre that has been a huge part of my entire existence. I even wrote my first horror short when I was 10 years old -- about a brain-sucking ghoul that sneaks into people's windows at night. (unpublished, and dead to the world, sadly)

The first "scary" movie I recall ever seeing was the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was barely five years old, but I remember like yesterday the memorable scene of Nancy's friend flopping up the walls and ceiling of her bedroom as the invisible Freddy Krueger slashed her to pieces in her dreams. My family hid the VHS of the movie, because it was obviously inappropriate for my young eyes. A sneaky child, I would wait till the family slept and I would stay up all night watching this classic as well as other horror movies of as many varieties as I could find. I was a happy child with television shows like Tales from the Dark Side, Monsters, the 1980s Twilight Zone series and The Nightmare on Elm street television show. I especially loved the show, Tales from the Crypt and absolutely adored the Crypt Keeper. 

Eventually my family really had no choice but to give up on trying to police my love of horror films. I was resourceful and always found a way to see the newest movie of interest. As a kid, my favorite horror movies were practically all of them. I loved them all from the cheesiest B flick to the highest production Hollywood hit. I was in love with the Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies, but around the age of 8, I began reading horror.

The first horror story I remember reading was a book called, Bunnicula, about a vampire bunny that sucked the nutrients from vegetables. Yes, very cheesy, and for kids of my age at the time. But even then I felt like my intelligence was insulted by that story. I pretty much decided that the books in my school's library weren't for me as far as that type of reading went. The second horror book I ever read -- the same year, eight years of age -- was Stephen King's Carrie. I found it at a yard sale when I was with my grandmother one day and after a really good beg session, she caved and bought it for me -- although she still wouldn't ever let me watch the movie starring John Travolta and Sissy Spacek.

The Amityville HorrorFrom there, I was hooked, an avid reader and viewer of all things horror. I loved to read and enjoyed everything I could find by Stephen King, who to this very day is my all time favorite horror writer. But, I also found many other stories throughout my travels through discount book bins at thrift stores and yard sales. One such book, The Amityville Horror, I read when I was 9 years old. I still, as I did then, hated the movie renditions of all of my favorite novels of my childhood (cringe a little huh?) such as Salem's Lot, Children of the Corn, Cujo, The Stand (to a point) and The Shining. Even as a child, I felt that they took away from the essence of the story the books conveyed.

That's why I've always preferred that my movies stay original and try to avoid basing them off of books. It's a fine line to walk and not everyone can make it right. An excellent book quickly turns into a shit pile of a movie. I do love cheese movies though, such as Motel Hell. I can't even begin to describe this one. There's cannibalism, inbreeding and lots of good stuff in this one from the 80s. I like movies that disturb me, leave me feeling sick or in a state of confusion for at least a week. Some movies like this aren't even labeled as "horror", but I find them scary, such as Gummo, created by the creator of the movie Kids. Or the movies Freeway and Freeway 2 -- sick, twisted flicks.

I'm a movie nerd. I'm constantly pointing out things I've seen in horror movies to the annoyance of my friends. I think this is what fuels me, makes me want to create something scary for people to enjoy, on all levels. I often find myself browsing, looking for something to see that's cutting edge, new. I often find myself leaning toward underground horror movies lately, because Hollywood isn't doing that good of a job. I miss my horror movies. Who else does?