As Joe Woodring snipped a customer’s hair at his Metamora barber shop, he paused to consider two high-profile, tragic events that have befallen the Fulton County community within the past nine months.
“It’s just a sad, unfortunate situation,” he said.
Woodring was discussing the traffic accident that claimed the life April 8 of Evergreen High School Athletic Director Timothy “T.J.” Rupp, and the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Metamora resident Sierah Joughin last July. He said talk at the Hair Hut on Main Street centered on both events.
The combined shock of the two incidents has left this rural village of under 700 people reeling and slow to heal. In a place where everybody knows, or knows of, everybody else, the loss of small-town innocence is a bitter pill to swallow.
Woodring didn’t know Rupp but said the man’s kind and generous reputation preceded him. “From what I heard, he was a nice guy,” he said.
A village resident for 40 years, Woodring said Joughin’s murder left the community with a sense of horror and disbelief. “Normally, this doesn’t happen in a small community,” he said. “That was just something that was unfathomable. We’re Christians, and we believe that we’re here to help one another.”
Responding to a vulgar comment from his customer that Joughin’s alleged killer, rural Delta resident James Worley, should not be shown mercy, Woodring conceded it’s a prevailing opinion in the area. He said because the woman was taken while riding her bicycle on a nearby county road, “you don’t see that anymore. It’s really taken a lot of innocence away from the area.”
Evergreen Local Schools Superintendent Jim Wyse said the sudden loss of Rupp reopened the wound of losing Joughin.
“It’s difficult when you have so many things happen to a community,” he said. “It’s difficult to cope. I think our community is supporting each other.”
Wyse had hired Rupp as athletic director, and described him as someone who lived life to the fullest.
“You can always replace a position but you just can’t replace the person,” he said. “He’s going to be missed by the students, the staff and the community.”
And while both deaths have had a big impact on the school district, “We’re hoping it’s going to make us stronger,” Wyse said.
Gary and Cheryl Truckor are owners of the T-Mart convenience store in town. Both said they didn’t know Rupp but, as members of a community praising his contributions to the school district, they mourn his untimely death.
Calling Joughin’s death brutal, they were as shocked as other village residents that her murder could have occurred in such a peaceful community. Both said the support local people give one another in times of need is a testament to the caring atmosphere.
Gary Truckor said he participated with over 1,000 volunteers who searched for Joughin after her disappearance, “and that tells you something about the community.”
He said Worley occasionally patronized the T-Mart, and “I think the shock was that it was somebody that several of us knew. It kind of takes the sense of security away.”
As president of the Evergreen Athletic Boosters, Country Charm Cafe waitress Michelle Herr worked closely with Rupp, and took his death hard.
“People would bring it up and I would start crying. It was tough,” she said. “I don’t know if I still believe it. It’s one of those things where you questions the whys, the ifs. He was the most helpful guy I ever met. Anything I needed, he would do for me. Just very, very helpful, and kind.”
In his role as a lunchroom monitor Rupp also had an effect on non-athletics at the school, said Herr, a graduate of Evergreen High School.
“One way or another, the kids had encountered T.J.,” she said. “He always had a smile on his face.”
Joughin’s death seemed like a nightmare, like something seen in a movie, Herr said. “How did we not know (Worley) was there? We just didn’t know about him.”
It will take considerable time for the community to recover, but residents are determined, she said.
“At first, what we wanted to do is never go outside again. What we did is take our roads back. We deliberately walked those roads. If we don’t, then we let him win.”
Kim Smallman collaborated with Rupp through her position as assistant vice president of Metamora State Bank on Main Street, which sponsors sporting events for the school district. She said Rupp brought senior basketball games and Northwest Ohio Athletic League events to the district.
“His enthusiasm for growing the sports program at Evergreen was amazing,” Smallman said. “He’s done so much for, not only the sports program itself, but also for the school, bringing in athletic events…things that we just didn’t hold before, and TJ was just very invested in making Evergreen a place where people wanted to come.”
She described Rupp as cheerful and laid back, the kind of individual who always made time for people.
“He was just a really great guy, great with the kids, super nice, fun to be around,” she added. “When we heard that he had passed, it was a huge loss. I felt for the community, just because we had just come out of something so horrific, but for those kids…TJ had such an impact on a lot of the students. Sportswise, he always coached sportsmanship and being a team player, and just being a good person all around…What an impact he had on their lives.”
Smallman, another lifelong Metamora resident, also knew Joughin, who was her daughter’s best friend.
“It didn’t matter what situation was going on, she just made the situation better,” Smallman said. “She always had a smile on her face, she was always up for an adventure. It didn’t matter what kind of day you had, she could make it better.
She was very optimistic. If something bad happened, she turned lemons into lemonade. That’s just who she was. She was going places. She was going to be an amazing young woman.”
The community still had not recovered from Joughin’s death when Rupp’s traffic accident occurred, Smallman said.
“Just coming off of last summer, and having to go through that…the stunning fact that something so horrific could happen in a such a small community,” she said. “And then to have this, it’s just another crushing blow for (residents). But we live in such a strong community. The community just pulls together and wraps their arms around (each other).”
The village’s initial reaction to Joughin’s murder was fear, she said. “You were afraid to let your kid play outside. And to gain that security back has been huge for everybody. It’s still ongoing every day. You see people walk and bike but not alone.”
Smallman sits on a board petitioning the state of Ohio to enact a bill dubbed “Sierah’s Law” that would create a violent offender registry and place violent crimes at a third-degree felony level or higher.
“We need to know who lives among us. Had we known, maybe we wouldn’t have let our kids run,” she said. “A violent offender registry would empower the community. Knowledge is power, in knowing who’s around you and who lives among you.”
The community will overcome Joughin’s tragic death, she said. “I think this community will rebound. But I think it rebounds because of the love and support that they have for everyone. We grow stronger in the things that hurt the most or are the most devastating. I think we learn how to be stronger.”
Woodring said Metamora’s eventual recovery can be ascribed to its most endearing and enduring component – the people.
“We’re a pretty caring community,” he said. “We look out for each other – try to, anyway. We’re coping about as well as we can.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.