Texas County Sheriff James Sigman said he believes Texas County remains one of the safest places to live. But he also emphasizes times are changing.
At the conclusion of a Feb. 27 press conference as dozens of regional and national media squeezed into the lobby of the Texas County Justice Center, Sigman was asked if he had a message for the community.
“Start locking your doors,” he said. “The world’s changing.”
Authorities said there were no signs of forced entry at any of the four residences in the Tyrone area where Joseph Aldridge killed seven people before committing suicide in Shannon County. Six of the victims were in their bedrooms and a seventh –– as well as his wife, who survived the shooting –– were in their living room area, according to Coroner Tom Whittaker
“The comment was simple, really,” Sigman said of his statement to the media. “I mean, you just look at the news from what’s all around us and what we grew up knowing and seeing –– and what we’re used to here –– is changing. There’s more violence, drugs and stealing, and things are changing even for us here in this small, rural area.
“You just can’t count on keeping your doors unlocked anymore. You’ve got to watch your back.”
Houston Police Chief Jim McNiell has long been an outspoken proponent of taking precautionary measures.
“Obviously, to have something of this magnitude has to open our eyes as to some of the things we can do to guard ourselves,” McNiell said. “I’m a firm believer in keeping your doors locked when you’re at home at night. And really, I’d lock them in the daytime, too, unless you’re in and out of the house quite a bit.
“I also think people should consider some type of home security system. You can buy one you put in yourself, or even better have it installed by one of the companies that offers that service.
“It’s great protection when you’re home and when you’re away – against both fire and home invasion – and you can include other buildings on your property if you’re concerned about them.”
McNiell reiterated that people need to be wary of strangers.
“If somebody comes to your door who you’re not familiar with, try to talk to them through the door,” he said. “One of the best ploys being used out there is asking to use a phone. If that happens, tell the person you’ll call somebody for them, or maybe loan the phone out through the door.
“But do not let them into your house under any circumstances.”
Despite the impact Aldridge’s actions have had on the area, Sigman said he still believes Texas County is an ideal place to live.
“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “Texas County is a great place to live, and I still say it’s one of the safest places around. We’re lucky to have a rural area where everyone knows everyone. We’re a large county with a lot of small communities. Who could ask for more than that?”
SAFEGUARDING YOUR WELL BEING AND POSSESSIONS
Houston Police Chief Jim McNiell offers more advice on precautionary measures people can take to protect themselves and their possessions.
“Make sure you have battery-operated smoke detectors in your house, because most fire deaths occur when people are sleeping, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“Keep in mind that batteries may last a year, but it’s a good rule of thumb to change them every six months when the time changes. Make that an automatic habit.
“Also, don’t leave any hidden keys outside that are easy to find. Let a family member or friend you trust have a key and if there’s an emergency and you or someone else needs to get in, you can just make a phone call.
“It’s also a good idea not to leave things of value in plain sight – anything of great value should always be secured, anyway.”
“When you go into a parking lot, always keep your car locked when you depart it, and don’t leave any valuable personal effects in plain sight. I highly recommend using the trunk if you’re vehicle has one.
“Also, park in a well-lit area rather than in a remote, dark area of the lot. I think it’s also a good idea to when you get back to your car, look inside it in the back seats and front seats to make sure nobody’s in there. At that time, you can unlock the door, get in and lock it behind you.
“And when you’re traveling, don’t pick up hitch-hikers. You don’t know these people – if you did, that might be something else. I know people like to help others,
“We even have a history in Texas County of people have had their vehicles taken away by knifepoint, gunpoint or physical altercation just by trying to help someone and picking them up.
“Another thing to consider when you’re traveling is that if you feel like you’re being followed, pull into a well-lit area.
“And if your vehicle breaks down and you’re on the side of a road and someone comes up to you, crack your window to speak to them and keep your doors locked.
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with in that situation; it’s the same with a book – you can’t judge it by its cover, and you can’t judge a person until you’ve been around them a while and get to know them. There are people who are both the best salesmen in the world and the best con artists in the world.
“You can always honk your horn if you feel uncomfortable, which will draw attention. And make sure your emergency flashers are on.
“And when you’re traveling out of state, always try to know what the number is to call the highway patrol in that state. In Missouri, it’s star-55.”
“Always be sure people you trust know that you’ll be gone and when you’ll be gone.
“And getting on Facebook and telling everyone where you’re going is probably not the smartest thing to do. Be quiet about your travel plans except for your close family and people close to you know who need to know.
“Also, to help make it look like someone is home, you can also have someone mow your yard if it needs mowing or if there’s snow on the ground, have someone shovel your walkway and driveway, or maybe make vehicle tracks in the snow.
“And make sure to either have someone get your mail or put a hold on it at the post office, so it doesn’t pile up in your mailbox and maybe start bulging out. If you’re like me, it doesn’t take long for mail to accumulate.”
“I like to recommend that when women are walking with a purse, they shouldn’t let it hang from their side, but hold it tight against their body, with the closure side of the purse against the body. That will make it hard for somebody to flip open the flap and get into it. And of course, if it’s hanging to the side, that makes it easy for someone to grab it and run.
“I also think men should carry their wallets in their front pockets, because that make it less susceptible to a pick-pocket. Also, don’t travel with a whole lot of stuff in your wallet; just bring the bare necessities.”
“We need to teach them to do the right things at an early age, like say ‘no’ to strangers and never walk up to a vehicle if they don’t know the people in it.
“Our children need to know how to call 911 and not to give out their own phone number or where they live – unless it’s a real emergency.
“I you get a phone call and you don’t know who the people, don’t share your credit card information. And if they’re asking you to send money and then they’ll do something for you, don’t.
“And if you get something in the mail and you’re not sure of its authenticity, call the Better Business Bureau or even your local police department.
“The bottom line is, there are no legitimate get-rich quick schemes, and you never want to send someone money who you don’t know. Never.”
“We all just need to be careful around people. Every one of these recommendations comes from my experience 37 years in law enforcement, and situations I’ve seen somebody do somebody wrong.
“There are things people can do to safeguard themselves and their property, and a lot of times these are things that aren’t done. I still believe this is a safe place, but we can’t let our guard down – we need to use common sense.”