Omaha is a place where neighbors can walk outside without fear, a place where even troubled neighborhoods have pockets of peace — and where strong efforts are being undertaken to combat violence.
That’s one reason it is so startling when horrific crimes occur, like the one that took the life of Little Italy’s Louise Sollowin, 93, who was raped and killed in her home this week. Or in 1999, when a robber slashed 87-year-old Lucille Bennett’s throat at her home near 20th and Lake Streets.
Such crimes have a resonance that goes beyond the tragedy of innocent lives extinguished. When someone attacks an elderly person in his or her home, they attack everyone who lives around these senior citizens, all who know them.
They attack the institutional fabric of neighborhoods. They attack church on Sundays, lawn cookouts and cookies for the kids. They attack the first person in the bakery to make sure the oven is firing. They attack the woman reading the Bible in bed.
They attack the person who always waves when neighbors pull in and out of the driveway. They attack the people who bring heartfelt condolences at times of sorrow and a cheerful knock on the door after a baby is born.
They attack our best selves, and they make us question the humanity of those around us. They attack what helps bind us together as a community.
Sollowin lived in that colorful stretch of Omaha between the Old Market and the Henry Doorly Zoo. By all accounts, she, like Bennett, was a fixture for more than just her family.
The people who knew these women loved them. “She was a pillar in our neighborhood and a library, as well, because of her history,” said one of Sollowin’s neighbors. All of Omaha shares the loss.
Authorities were lucky in this instance. A suspect was caught quickly and now will face the full force of the law. That should help people sleep a little more soundly.
But the very idea of such crime reminds us of the vulnerability of these neighborhood pillars and of the need to treasure their time and contributions. It’s enough to make all of us pause and reach out.
It’s also a sad reminder of the need to lock doors and to watch out for these community pillars in the same way that they, over the decades, have watched out for us. If one positive thing can be gleaned from such awful events, let it be that we can all do a better job caring for our neighbors as ourselves.
These neighbors would have loved that.