Friday's Shootings in Fordyce Hits Home

No six degrees of separation when it comes to Arkansas' latest tragedy
A copy of the Mad Butcher circular for its Fordyce store the week of the deadly mass shooting that took place there.
A copy of the Mad Butcher circular for its Fordyce store the week of the deadly mass shooting that took place there. /
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WARREN, Ark. – It was an odd feeling to get an alert from a national media outlet on my phone and see a mass shooting has taken place in Arkansas.

The last time something like that happened, I watched the aftermath of the Jonesboro Middle School shooting unfold in the 1990s from the living room of a good friend alongside his family. However, that was different.

Although it was a the dawn of these types of shootings becoming a common occurrence in the United States so they were still shocking, that initial incident happened in Northeast Arkansas. It was the only one of the five regions of Arkansas that was, and still is, foreign to me, so it didn't hit with as much impact as it could have.

However, seeing the word Fordyce on a national news site was jarring. Most of our staff grew up in South Arkansas just down the road from Fordyce.

Beign raised in that region makes for a different life than a lot of places in America. Businesses may have names, but are just as likely to be known simply as the Mexican restaurant, the bank, the grocery store or the bait shop.

When it comes to highways, much like a lot of people there, I had no idea for much of my life that there were actual numbers associated with them. There were five highways in and out of Warren, which is where I grew up:
Pine Bluff highway
Banks highway
Monticello highway
Hermitage highway
Fordyce highway
It's possible some of those were the same road as far as maps were concerned, but they were definitely distinct paths to the citizens of Bradley County.

Life in Small Town Grocery Aisles

As a child, there were two grocery stores in town for a good chunk of my life – Kroger and the Mad Butcher. The town went to Kroger a bit more overall, but I loved that my mother went to the Mad Butcher as often as possible.

It was a small store housed in a metal building not much larger than a lot of the gas stations found along the interstate highways these days. When my mother would finish checking out, she earned these little mint colored stamps that she would sometimes let me add to a book she was trying to fill.

If she filled it, there was another building in the same parking lot where she would exchange them for random items. Looking back, it's possible some of my Christmas presents may have come from these stamp collections.

It always took a long time to get out of the Mad Butcher though because every aisle presented a requirement to stop and chat with Debbie from down the street, Gayle from over at the bank, Jared's dad Billy, or 10-20 of the 7,000 people in town plus hundreds from surrounding towns, all of whom knew each other.

I used to think it was the jingle on the local radio station that drew them in.
"The Mad Butcher, the Mad Butcher. He's mad, mad, mad about YOUUUUUUUUUUU!"
But it wasn't. Going grocery shopping in small towns like that is a social occasion. It's where all the stuff that divides people falls to the side and they greet one another as brothers and sisters.

If Jerome had a great game on Friday night and one of his family members happened to be in the cereal aisle, regardless of race, someone was going to mention it in a glowing way. If Jill was in the paper for some award she won, regardless of political affiliation, someone was going to tell her mom how proud they were of Jill and how proud Jill's mom must be.

When the videos came out showing the shooting taking place, the parking lot in Fordyce looked exactly like the one where the Mad Butcher is currently housed in Warren. I had no idea there was another Mad Butcher on this planet, but with Warren and Fordyce being so similar, I am not surprised.

Had it not been for the gas station being on the wrong side of the store, I would have sworn the shooting was happening in Warren. That made it hit harder.

The realization soon came that the people this man kept wildly firing at would be known by a lot of people I knew growing up. Chances are they would be their relatives or possibly even someone from Warren who had gone to Fordyce to visit friends.

Turns out, unfortunately, I was right. Shortly after details began trickling out, my mother reached out to let me know the wife of one of the truck drivers who transports the logs my father cuts to the mill was shot three times.

Other people from Warren on various Facebook threads began telling the tale of friends or family rushing to hide in coolers. Video texted to people around town directly from people in Fordyce showed the scene up close and in HD as a man associated with the trucking industry in nearby New Edinburgh, a small spot in the road just outside of Warren, fired shot after shot while marching through the parking lot.

Bitter rivalry

For much of my childhood, Warren and Fordyce were rivals. The mascots alone made it natural to want to beat them at every chance.

A lot of the football players in Warren watched their dads come home, shake piles of sawdust out of their clothes and then disappear into the bathroom with various chemicals needed to kill off bugs that had attached themselves throughout the workday while out in the woods cutting logs. Had it just been the ticks, it wouldn't have been necessary. Those could be simply pulled off.

However, one scourge was too small to really see and pretty much impossible to pick off – the red bug. It itched like crazy and accidentally getting into a mess of red bugs meant misery for the rest of the work day until the men could get home and really do something about it.

Because of the success in football, and also the large number of players who went on to play for the Razorbacks and eventually the NFL in recent years, most people in Arkansas are aware Warren is home of the Lumberjacks. What many may not realize is nearby Fordyce is home to the Redbugs, the sworn enemy of the men who toil day after day in the logging industry.

The rivaly got pretty bitter throughout the '90s. Fordyce quarterback Clark Watkins stomped mud holes in teams across South Arkansas during much of my youth as he racked up 35 wins and only a pair of losses. I sat in Lumberjack Stadium among a standing room only crowd as he came to town to face one of the few teams that could possibly take him down.

Alonzo Hampton, whom Arkansas will face as a college coach to open the season this year, was Warren's all-world running back who ran behind Bryan Cornish, a bull of a man even though he was in high school. He would soon leave town to become a Razorback while Hampton went on to show up on our television screens on ESPN as an NFL Europe champion playing defensive back for the Frankfurt Galaxy in Germany.

A few years later, my friends and I got our first taste of facing Fordyce. I always loved playing games there because the train ran through the back of the end zone. For some reason, all I ever wanted during those games was for someone to kick a field goal and it land in the back of the train as it passed by to see it take off for Warren with the game ball.

We lost to Fordyce at least once. Kelvin Gragg, father of former Razorbacks star tight end Chris Gragg, hated our demeanor on the way home. We knew better. Losses were to be solemn and dead silent on the bus ride home, but for some reason this trip included a bit of nervous noise by my teammates.

By the time we arrived back in Warren, the loss had gotten deep under Coach Gragg's skin and the lack of prosper respect for losing to a rival was wearing on him. He wanted to get off the bus and immediately run all that energy we apparently hadn't used up on the field against Fordyce out of us before putting our gear back up in the locker room.

It was a character thing and we hadn't shown much of it by not leaving every ounce of ourselves on the field in Fordyce that night. It was an insult to our town where character and heart were serious matters.

It appears the case was the same in Fordyce in regard to character and still is today. One of the first interviews to come from the scene of the shooting was two sisters describing what happened.

One of the sisters talked about realizing her mother's windows weren't tinted and telling her sister to get down when the shots started firing. They huddled in the floor of the car hoping the sky that filled what they could see out the window didn't suddenly become blocked out by the face of the shooter.

She grabbed her sister's hand and told her she loved her and thought about her mother who was in the store on the opposite side of the shooter with possibly nowhere to go. Then she said something that surprised no one who has ever grown up in South Arkansas.

She said she was praying for the shooter. She didn't know what was going on in his life, but something bad must have happened to cause him to do that and she wanted to go to the Lord on his behalf.

It appears some things may have actually happened, although they might not be directly related. A document I was able to find online shows some sort of necessary paperwork to operate the shooter's trucks for hauling goods had been revoked in 2023.

It may not have been the cause at all, or it may have been the tipping point that led down a dark path after months of life slowly falling apart. It will take time to peel back the layers to find out where things went wrong.

Whatever the reason, a lot of people woke up today thinking it was just a nightmare only to realize it was all real. Even though these things happen in small towns on a regular basis, there's always an insulated feeling that it can't happen in your particular small town.

However, when it did, Warren was one of the first to dispatch police officers to help with the situation. The people of Warren will also be among the first to do what they can to help the families in Fordyce.

Much like it was in that Mad Butcher before the shots started firing, trivial things like old rivalries, race and politics will fall by the wayside as the false barriers they truly are. Everyone will become brothers and sisters of the same South Arkansas family through which they have always had shared commonalities.

It will be the streets of Fordyce rather than the cereal aisle or in front of the counter waiting for freshly fried chicken to be boxed up. However, it's all the same in this case.

The people of South Arkansas are as tough as they come and they have the capacity to show love to an even deeper degree. Help and support will be there for those who need it from their literal neighbors and those a town over.

While Fordyce football is no longer on the minds of the people in Warren after the high school population got too small for the Redbugs to remain conference mates with the Lumberjacks, the people of the town, bonded through blood in many cases and a shared experience of small town afternoons in a Mad Butcher grocery story, will remain on the hearts and minds of the people of Warren for a long time to come.

Friday afternoon, Fordyce was in the national news for a terrible thing. Let's hope neither town ever experiences such notoriety ever again.


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Kent Smith


Kent Smith has been in the world of media and film for nearly 30 years. From Nolan Richardson's final seasons, former Razorback quarterback Clint Stoerner trying to throw to anyone and anything in the blazing heat of Cowboys training camp in Wichita Falls, the first high school and college games after 9/11, to Troy Aikman's retirement and Alex Rodriguez's signing of his quarter billion dollar contract, Smith has been there to report on some of the region's biggest moments.