Our Views: Manhunt ends but leaves an unsettling feeling

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Gazette Editorial Board
Monday, April 17, 2017

Joseph Jakubowski will be remembered not for any heinous crime he committed but for the one we imagined he could.

Police say he stole multiple guns. He wrote a manifesto. He torched his vehicle. He disappeared.

And the hunt was on.

More than 150 local, state and federal officers mobilized, creating a command post in Janesville and combing through more than 600 leads regarding his whereabouts. They offered a $10,000 for his capture before upping it to $20,000.

It was perhaps the most intense manhunt this region—and maybe the whole Midwest—has ever known. Schools went on “soft lockdowns” on Day One and shut down for Day Two. If it hadn’t been for Easter break, many schools might have remained closed for more than a week.

Police patrolled area churches out of concern for anti-religious views expressed in Jakubowski’s manifesto.

Gov. Scott Walker stopped making public appearances, and he even canceled his annual Easter egg hunt (though it was back on after Jakubowski’s capture).

At the start of this ordeal, Jakubowski sounded like a monster. But by the end, he came across as mainly misguided and deluded. Stories appeared in The Gazette and other publications characterizing him as down on his luck. He lost his job at a local retailer selling car stereos. He did some work as a roofer but hurt his back.

He even wrote a letter of apology to the owner of a gun shop he intended to burglarize to get the guns.

The farmer who found Jakubowski on Thursday evening said the two had spent nearly an hour talking. If Jakubowski had grand plans to shoot up a school or church, this man, Jeffrey Gorn, presumably stood in Jakubowski’s way. The Jakubowski we imagined—the one depraved enough to open fire on kids as they peeked under bushes in search of Easter eggs—would have killed this interloper. Right?

Monster or not, Jakubowski’s capture elicited a regional sigh of relief, and the high level of professionalism exhibited by local leaders, Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore and Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden, throughout the manhunt is worth noting. TV viewers watching the news conferences about Jakubowski could have easily mistaken Spoden and Moore for federal officials accustomed to speaking in a national spotlight. Local residents should feel proud of how they handled this case and represented our community to the nation.

Yet, Jakubowski’s capture leaves an unsettling feeling. It certainly doesn’t feel like the victory portrayed by law enforcement. That one man could cause such disruption and prompt such a vast mobilization of law enforcement says as much about our psyche as it does about Jakubowski.

The manhunt is evidence of the psychological damage exacted by previous lone wolf attacks, which now color our interpretation of those threats that cannot be easily and quickly explained and quantified. While we’ve all come to learn about lone wolf attackers and their motivations, most of us cannot comprehend the taking of innocent lives to make a political or some other point.

We’re at a loss to understand this type of person, and it’s always difficult to respond appropriately to a threat we cannot understand. That banging in the night could be a burglar trying to break in, or it could be the cat knocking a pot off the kitchen counter. Do we grab the baseball bat, or do we flip our pillow and go back to sleep?

An overwhelming response is often the safe bet, but it comes at a price. In Jakubowski’s case, no blood was spilt, but the fear will stain our sensibilities for years to come.




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