Standoffs with police are not at all uncommon in the Las Vegas Valley, although those that end with a dead body are much rarer. But at least up until last week, both had been nonexistent in Anthem Highlands, a peaceful, remote enclave I’ve lived in since 2005. I’m not raising children—mine are grown and on their own—but I’m definitely in the minority here. This is the closest you’ll get to Mayberry in Southern Nevada, with children and their parents as common a sight as Texas Ranger plants. When the mercury rises, parks are full; when it drops, the Christmas and Halloween lights come out.
- From the Sun
- State fire official’s death ruled suicide (04/27/10)
- State official dead after shots fired in Henderson home (04/22/10)
As of April 22, Anthem Highlands became like a lot of other neighborhoods. In one of its homogenous, two-story homes in the Claremont neighborhood, state fire marshal Eric Thatcher fired multiple shots at police officers and surrounding homes, and was subsequently found dead inside of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the Clark County Coroner’s Office.
I didn’t know Thatcher—I live in the Montrose neighborhood in the Highlands on the other side of Democracy Drive, about a half-mile from the scene—but Claremont residents Bobby Martinez and his wife, Monica Martin, who live less than a block from his house, did. They moved to Anthem Highlands eight months ago because it was “beautiful” and “safe,” and met Thatcher two months ago at a communal birthday party in Anthem Highland’s Esselmont park. This particular party was for Thatcher’s daughter, and he couldn’t have been friendlier, both say. “His daughter goes to the same school as my daughter,” Monica says, a hint of disbelief in her voice. “He and his wife were very nice people, and they even brought beer to the party. It was a great ice-breaker.”
Monica says the police presence was “insane” as they tried entering their community that day. After getting some information from police, they had to go up Democracy and come back down to get out, only to hear gunshots as they passed. “It was a booming shot, like a shotgun or a high-caliber weapon. I floored it when I heard that,” Bobby says. His wife adds, “we didn’t know it was [Thatcher] until we turned on the news that night. We knew what street he lived on, but not where.”
They remain passionate about their community, however. “I love it here. I do feel very safe, and we know all our neighbors,” Monica says. “Normal people have issues. We’re concerned and sad for his family, but this is really just one of those things.”
A few houses down, Birgit Drowanowski, who’s been a resident for nearly two years, offers a similar opinion. “This kind of stuff happens all the time, from trailer parks to upscale neighborhoods.” Still, it was a “scary” afternoon for the mother, who was at home with her young daughter when the shooting started. “It was about 15 shots, and at first I thought it was fireworks,” she says. She praised Henderson police. “They called me three times to let me know what was going on. I understood it might have been domestic violence, and all I remember is praying, ‘Please don’t let there be women and children in that house.’”
She said one positive has come out of this experience: “I think it’s time to get to know my neighbors.”
Before leaving, I have to be like everyone else and get a look at the crime scene. I walk close enough before I’m stopped by police, but I can see the two second-story windows smashed and gnarled and shattered glass in the driveway. I also detect the metallic smell of blood in the air. When I drive by a few days later, a small gathering of neighbors sits outside the house next to it. From their body language, I get the distinct impression that I’d best keep driving. Anthem Highlands will feel safe again soon, but not right now.