This is how it starts, people. A grisly crime in some sleepy, provincial community, a proximal association with an astronomical event, police officers with notions, credulous reporting by so-called journalists, and it all adds up somehow to an occult ritual.
Numerous news outlets are breathlessly reporting a "Wiccan Ritual Killing" in Pensacola, FL. That Wiccans don't ritually sacrifice people and that nothing about this crime appears in any way ritualistic, notwithstanding.
This NBC article was floating down my Facebook timeline this morning.
A triple homicide in Florida is suspected to be a "Wiccan ritual killing" related to the "blue" moon, police said Tuesday.
The three victims, all from the same family, were found after a welfare check on Friday, July 31, said Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Andrew Hobbes.
"It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon," Hobbes told NBC News.
. . .
When asked how the evidence suggests these are ritualistic or Wiccan killings Sgt. Hobbes said, "The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner."
That reporter deserves at least some credit for pointing out that Wicca does not advocate ritual murder and for referencing the late Margot Adler as among the growing ranks of perfectly peaceful American Wiccans. But none of the facts of the case, buried deep in the articles, seem to prevent headlines about the "Wiccan Ritual" blamed for this brutal murder by Sheriff David Morgan and/or Sgt. Andrew Hobbes, depending on which article you read. The International Business Times even went so far as to include a stock photo of a Wiccan altar. An appallingly ignorant quote by a neighbor initially reported by local affiliate FOX10 has also been disseminated far and wide.
Ken Lester, who recently moved to the neighborhood, on edge is on edge. [sic]
“It’s frightening to think about. Especially when you have small children," said Lester, "to find out that it was this weird, satanic cult, witchcraft whatever, is just really unsettling.”
Goddess help me.
The devil, as they say, is in the details. What were the tools used in this "ritual?"
All three victims were struck multiple times with a claw hammer and had their throats slit, and Richard Smith also had a gunshot to his right ear, Morgan said. The initial investigation points toward some kind of "ritualistic killing" Morgan said Tuesday.
Because, as everybody knows, guns and claw hammers are very sacred to the practice of Wicca.
But, there's that blue moon thing!
The bodies were discovered Friday in their home in a rural neighborhood of ranch-style houses north of Pensacola Naval Air Station after a request for a welfare check. Investigators believe the Smiths were killed about 7 p.m. on July 28.
The blue moon, a rare second full moon in a single month, occurred on Friday, July 31, three days after the killings. The sheriff did not explain the discrepancy, and it was not addressed in a news release issued Wednesday morning. [emphasis mine]
Of course, the person of interest is a Wiccan! Not said is what makes this person so interesting. Is it simply because it's a local Wiccan and this murder occurred, um, several days before the blue moon? Or is it that there is actual evidence pointing to this individual who just happens quite incidentally to be Wiccan? Who can say? No one who's relying on the bizarre police comments so shoddily reported by numerous news outlets.
What we have here are the raw ingredients for another Satanic Panic, of the kind that robbed West Memphis Three of half their lives. As FBI investigator Kenneth Lanning has explained, these accusations have proved repeatedly to be the result of the blinkered world view in some communities when faced with horrific crimes. It was evil, therefore, the devil made them do it. This knee-jerk conclusion drives the interpretation of the evidence, rather than the evidence driving more objective conclusions.
The victims of this crime, 77 year old Voncile Smith and her two adult sons, John and Richard Smith (who worked for Homeland Security), are described as so reclusive that neighbors "would not have recognized them if they saw them." This peculiar detail seems not to factor into the inexplicable determination that the local Wiccan did it... in some bizarre ritual involving a gun and a claw hammer.