CHARLESTON (AP) — The town of War, a McDowell County community of 1,000 residents, remains horrified over the gruesome murder this summer of its mayor.
Seventy-two-year old Thomas Hatcher was found dead in his home in July.
Police say Hatcher’s daughter-in-law and her brother killed the elderly McDowell County native for $1,100 he kept hidden in the home — money they stole to buy drugs.
Residents describe how wide-spread drug addiction and drug related crimes are throughout the region.
But despite the fear of this epidemic, a small group of residents continues to work tirelessly for change and community improvement.
“We’ve had unbelievable overdoses and deaths, children that are raising themselves now. It breaks my heart,” said Marsha Timpson, Co-Executive Director of Big Creek People in Action.
“I say we’ve survived the floods, we’ve survived the coal industry going down to what it is, unemployment being so bad, the housing issue, the economics as they are, and I’m so afraid drugs are what will do us in,” she said.
“It is so rampant; people I never thought in my wildest dreams are on drugs.”
Big Creek People in Action was established in 1990, originally to fight for a better water system for southern McDowell County.
After a new water system was achieved, the nonprofit organization turned its attention to education and literacy programs, volunteer services, home rehabilitation and weatherizing, community events and other improvement endeavors.
Drugs have changed not only individual users, but those who surround them, and an entire way of life here, according to Timpson.
“What I hold dear is that sense of community,” she said. “I grew up in a little holler called Warrior Mines; there was no better place in the world to grow up.
“It’s not the coal camp my children grew up in; they grew up in a coal camp where almost everyone is on some type of check, a disability check, a welfare check, some kind of check,” she continued.
“There is a sense of hopelessness for so many people here, and I think they cope by just zoning themselves out with the dope, instead of facing it, they just zone out and erase their emotional pain as well as their physical pain with these drugs.”
Timpson says that’s not what Big Creek People in Action condones.
“I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in ‘keep on keeping on,’” she said. “And keeping the faith.”
“This coal camp will never be what it was when I was growing up. But we can be better than what we are today. And so that’s what Big Creek People in Action is all about, it’s what I’m about, I want things better.
“I want the youth to make changes, I want the youth to realize it can be better, and not to fall in that trap of thinking everything is hopeless. We have to put that faith in our young people. They’re our future.”
Scotty Wayne Perez is the jobsite supervisor for Big Creek People in Action. He’s also maintenance and program support, safety director, grounds keeper, and janitor.
“Last year alone we rehabilitated 75 homes,” said Perez. “We built handicap ramps, built rooms, installed floors and bathroom fixtures, secured walls, hung sheet rock, and painted the houses.”
“Big Creek People in Action helps those who help themselves,” he said.
“Now we have a new motto: Be the change you wish to see; live, play and learn every day, to build a stronger community.”
“We kind of live by that statement,” said Perez.
The Stenson family of Berwin is a current recipient of some assistance from BCPIA.
The couple wants to adopt their grandchildren who were removed from their parents’ home, but Child Protective Services’ decision to support adoption is pending because it deemed the Stenson home to be unsafe.
“They’ve built two rooms for us and they’re in the process of building 2 more,” said Ellen Stenson. “I just can’t explain how thankful I am, how appreciative we are.”
“It’s a very hurtful situation, it’s hard because this is about our grandchildren, and the Big Creek in Action People, they’re such a blessing.”
BCPIA is bringing into McDowell County this summer multiple university and church volunteer groups from throughout the country. In addition, the organization provides parenting and literacy programs. It has established a public computer lab, and organizes the yearly Christmas party for needy children, the disabled, and seniors.
“I think we’re making a huge impact on our community,” said Timpson. “We have come so close so many times to having to close our doors because of not having the money to keep it open.”
“But I think God takes a hand in that, I really do, and something always happens to make it possible for us to leave our doors open.”