John Cook, president of the GOP Club, found himself hyper-vigilante as he drove to Bible study or the grocery store, partly for his own security and partly in the far-fetched hope that he might glimpse something useful to the investigation.
“I can’t believe I’m scoping out a parking lot,” he said after walking into a Starbucks. “Are we a Third World country?”
Cook was good friends with McLelland, who wore a black cowboy hat and was all Texas swagger when he talked about “getting the bad guys out of Kaufman.”
“He was a strong Christian conservative,” Cook said. “He was always in the middle of helping people. Whether it was a fundraiser or whatever, he was there.”
Cook’s cellphone rang. It was McLelland’s best friend, Skeet Phillips, who had been so worried about McLelland’s safety after Hasse was killed that he had taken it upon himself to look after him, sticking close by with a gun whenever he could. Phillips and his son, a Dallas police officer, were the ones who discovered the McLellands’ bodies last weekend, and he had been struggling.
“Are you doing okay?” Cook asked him now.
It was a question repeated all week, and especially Thursday, when the courthouse shut down at 11 a.m. and it felt as if the whole county was headed west to Sunnyvale First Baptist Church, where snipers were positioned on the roof and where Texas Gov. Rick Perry, three pastors and many more family members and colleagues would try to make sense of things at the McLellands’ memorial.
Judge Bruce Wood decided on something simple.
Standing behind Mike McLelland’s flag-draped coffin, he read a short biography of the couple. He talked about how Mike “could be quite a character” and how Cynthia always seemed genuinely interested in how he was doing.
“She’d say, ‘Judge, are you doing okay?’ ” Wood recalled.
As he spoke, people in the crowd of more than 2,000 nodded or said “yes” or gave other signs of recognition, because they too had known Cynthia and Mike, as people do in small towns. She was the one who always brought cookies to the courthouse or was sewing a quilt for a friend, and who had lately been concerned about her husband’s safety. He was the one who loved to tell a story in the courthouse hallways, who referred to those who killed Hasse as “scum” and had begun carrying a gun everywhere he went.
“I don’t know what the murderer hoped to accomplish by killing these two great souls,” said Bruce Bryant, chief investigator for the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office. “. . . But we will not stop. . . . I promise we will soldier on.”
The service lasted about an hour. Afterward, a long line of white-gloved officers saluted Mike McLelland’s coffin, followed by less-formally attired officers and finally a few county judges, elected officials, county workers and others who wished to say goodbye. Snipers continued to watch from the rooftop, a police helicopter flew overhead, and dozens of officers ringed the church keeping guard.
As the line made its way past the coffin, through the doors of the sanctuary and finally out into the church lobby, a woman stepped aside.
She had something to say, one more attempt to explain, one more eulogy.
“Oh goodness,” she said to herself, starting to cry. “Goodness, goodness, goodness.”
Jerry Markon and Alice R. Crites contributed to this report.