Late Sunday afternoon, I sat at my desk in the Herald office uploading photos for my latest story. While I waited for the files to transfer, I browsed around Facebook to find locals to friend.
Being new to town, most of the Sidney names I scrolled through were unfamiliar, until I came across the profile of Sherry Whited Arnold.
My heart stopped for a moment. I carefully observed her profile picture. In it, she’s outside in sunny weather, standing in front of a boat and wearing sunglasses and a sleeveless shirt. She’s fit and tan with a relaxed smile.
Before moving to Sidney, I had heard about what happened to Sherry. It was in national news, and a few of my Missoula friends warned me.
“You don’t want to move to Sidney,” one of my friends told me. “Didn’t you hear about Sherry Arnold?”
I’ve heard Sherry’s named tossed around to symbolize the “craziness” of this little oil boom town. People have warned me not to ever go out alone in the early morning or after dark, and Sherry’s name is usually muttered in those warnings.
To me, she’s been just that. A name. A warning. A symbol. A tragedy. An event that shook up and scared this small town.
But looking at her profile, I was reminded that she was much more than any of that. Sherry Arnold was a living, breathing human being. Sherry had wide eyes and a thin face. She used a smart phone. She posted pictures with her kids. She looked pretty in hats. She liked to go running. She taught math. And from what I hear, she was a good person.
The next time I hear Sherry’s name getting tossed around as a reminder of the worst of this town, I’d like to redirect the focus to how Sherry Arnold the person was actually representative of everything good about this town.
Sherry taught for 18 years, had a big family and was a part of the community. There was so much more to Sherry than how her life ended, and in the fear and whispers that followed her death that seems to be forgotten by some people.
I studied her face in photos, thinking about how alive she looked. I’m glad I came across her profile. In the future, I’ll no longer associate her name with just her tragedy. Instead, I’ll think about her life.
Published in the Sidney Herald on Weds., Aug. 14, 2013.