Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dispelling a Mayberry myth in rural Minnesota December 16, 2011

Man in custody after shooting in Gaylord

Two men arrested after incident with police officers in Winthrop

Three years since rural Green Isle homicide

These disturbing headlines all published recently in a single issue of a 10-page small-town Minnesota weekly newspaper.

How life has changed in the 31 years since I pounded out news articles there, for The Gaylord Hub, on a vintage manual typewriter. The biggest news stories during my 1978 – 1980 tenure as a reporter were fires and motor vehicle crashes and the controversy over the expansion of local chicken barns.

I didn’t write about eight bullets fired into a Gaylord home in an alleged gang-related shooting or a scuffle between police and a suspect or a three-year unsolved homicide.

And I didn’t have to report on a courthouse shootings like the one which occurred Thursday in quiet Grand Marais, an artsy get-away destination along the shores of Lake Superior.

Thirty years ago, small towns were still relatively untouched by violent, drug-related or other crime. Not so anymore. One need only pick up any weekly newspaper to read about major crimes that rock even the most rural regions.

Just this week in Redwood County in rural southwestern Minnesota, warrants were issued for 31 individuals on felony drug charges following a year-long, five-county investigation, according to information published in The Redwood Falls Gazette. Most suspects have been arrested and charged.

That’s my home county you’re talking about here, a place of small towns, grain elevators, farm sites, and corn and soybean fields—about as rural as you can get.

This isn’t Mayberry anymore.

While I can wax nostalgic about how things “used to be,” the reality of life is this: Times have changed. People have changed. Respect for parents and authority and laws have eroded.

Crime, once considered a big-city problem, reaches deep into the most rural of locations.

It is sad.

But it is the truth.

IF YOU LIVE in a rural area, have you see increases in crime? Explain. How have you, personally, or your community been impacted? How is your community dealing with crime? Please submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling