Lines Composed at the New Castle County Courthouse, February, 2013

By Jennifer Sutherland

Equity will not suffer a wrong without
a remedy. Two days later,

when the lobby tile had traded crimson
for cardboard and chalk,

I respectfully submitted a request
to return and retrieve my papers.

As the scene had been processed
my plea was granted.

The policeman yawned and stepped
over the yellow tape, into the sanctum

where two days before
the living had offered up

their covenants, and plucked
my manila folder from the artifacts still unclaimed.

When the shooting began I felt
something descend like a wing
or a cord. All

which we behold
is full of blessings.

About the Author

Jennifer Sutherland is an attorney in Baltimore who will beginning this fall to work toward an MFA degree in Poetry at Hollins University. Her work has appeared in The Northern Virginia Review and The Maryland Bar Journal.

Behind the Lines

“In 2013, I was in Wilmington to try a case before Delaware’s Chancery Court. As I approached the lobby carrying a banker’s box full of exhibits for my case, a man walked in and opened fire. He shot and killed two women, wounded a security guard and then killed himself. The women he murdered were his former daughter-in-law and her friend, who had come with her for moral support during a hearing in family court that day. The ex-husband and his family had been involved in a long-running, awful custody dispute.

As the gunfire began, I ran into the adjacent parking garage, shaking, and eventually found my way to a stairwell, where several others had taken shelter; we waited there for emergency personnel to arrive. I also Tweeted from the scene, breaking the story, it turned out, and in the hours and days that followed, I was a target online for NRA supporters, many of whom Tweeted at me from anonymous Twitter accounts rather than reveal their real names or faces. A couple of media outlets picked up the story and wrote about me and the role of the “citizen journalist.” My client, who also witnessed the shooting, did not wish to return to Delaware again for a rescheduled trial, so the judge agreed to open his courtroom early to us in order to try our case. This meant that I had to collect my exhibits—several boxes of them, spattered with blood—from the lobby two days after the shooting. This poem, I think, reflects my state of shock in those days.

I feel anxious now whenever I walk into a courthouse lobby. The incident is not the sole reason for my decision to leave the practice of law, but it is certainly a factor.”


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