He remembers it was a clear night.
He can’t really recall if it had rained the day before or was windy 24 hours later. He just knows the sun had set, pulling the cover of darkness over Macon like a blanket. The first phase of the new moon hung in the sky.
“It was a beautiful, starry night,” he said.
It was not hard for him to look up and see the stars after he had been ordered to lie flat on the ground, the barrel of a loaded gun pointed at his head.
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It was the longest 15 minutes of his life. He wondered if he would live to see another sunrise or if this was the final curtain on the stairway to heaven.
“There on the ground, I was thinking this could be the end,” he said. “Did I pray? I’m not sure that I did. I should have. I was fearing for my life and hoping they weren’t going to shoot me because I wasn’t ready to die.”
His name is Burt. His friends call him by another name. But to protect his identity during the ongoing investigation, I will introduce him with a whittled down version of his last name.
He is 71 years old, a Christian man who has devoted the past 27 years of his life to serving others. He has been on mission trips to Costa Rica and Jamaica and was part of a medical mission trip to the Amazon River in Brazil this past summer.
He has been involved with Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Macon. He has helped construct houses from Pleasant Hill to the mountains of Appalachia.
That night, his life was spared. Although he was a victim, he did not become a statistic -- what would have been Bibb County’s third homicide of the new year.
Thursday marked the month anniversary of the incident. He had gone to the warehouse where he keeps tools, outdoor equipment and other supplies for his projects. It is something he has routinely done hundreds of times.
“I have been over there in the morning before the sun came up, and I have been there way past dark,” he said. “I have never had any problems. That night, it was business as usual. I went in and came out to get in my truck and head home.”
He was sitting in the cab, his door open with the interior light on. He noticed a motion in the shadows. A man approached him. At first, Burt thought he might need directions. That was wishful thinking.
The man ordered him to get out of the truck. His face was covered, and he was holding a gun. Burt then realized the man had an accomplice. The two men took his keys and demanded him to lie face down on the ground.
They grabbed his billfold from his back pocket, ransacked his truck and snatched his cellphone from the front seat. They pulled off his socks and shoes and told him to spread his arms. They then ordered him to turn over on his back.
That’s when he saw the stars.
He kept a revolver in his glove compartment, and they got that, too. He now believes if he had managed to get his hands on the pistol, and there had been a confrontation, he might not have survived to tell his story.
“The perpetrator had the upper hand,” Burt said. “I had to do everything he wanted, so he would hopefully spare my life. I wanted him just to take the stuff and leave me alone. The rule is to do what he demands and hope he does not knife you or shoot you.”
Burt did not plead for his life. He thought about his wife, two sons and five grandchildren, and how they would miss their “Papa.”
Time stood still for 15 minutes. He heard their retreating footsteps, moving quickly in the dark, leaving only silence behind. Burt sat up but remained still until he could be sure they were gone. Even then, he feared one of them might pull the trigger from the shadows.
He had a spare key hidden inside the truck. Shaken, he drove the five miles to his home. They had stolen his cellphone, so he could not immediately call the police. He had a fistful of quarters, but where the heck have all the pay phones gone?
Over the past four weeks, he has been back to his warehouse a few times. But not after dark. And not without trepidation.
“This is my hobby,” he said. “I don’t play golf. I don’t hunt or fish. I go to my warehouse and play. I build things. The incident has yielded a bit of uncertainty. It’s like my Saturday afternoon golf game has been taken away.”
He has spent the past month counting his blessings. He stood up in his Sunday School class, his words trembling as he shared his testimony. At a Thursday morning prayer breakfast, he clutched a copy of The Telegraph, turned to stories of shootings and other violent crimes.
By the grace of God, his name was not printed on those pages. Or in the obituaries.
Earlier this week, he and his wife joined friends for dinner at a local restaurant.
“Glad to see you,” they told him, hugging him and slapping him on the back.
“Those words have a much stronger meaning now,” he said. “I would rather them be happy to see me than to say, ‘That sure was a sad funeral.’”
Burt is a blessed man. His message is to be vigilant and never drop your guard. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It just did.
Why was he shown mercy when so many armed robberies do not end well?
He has asked himself that question over and over. His mind raced back to a magnet that once hung on the refrigerator door in his kitchen.
There were no words, only seven letters -- two vowels and five consonants.
God Is Not Finished With Me Yet.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.