Deaths weigh heavy for county coroner

Published 11:31 pm Saturday, July 28, 2018

Images in James Lee’s head are the stuff of horror movies. But for the longtime Adams County Coroner the sobering and troubling reality is: the images burned in his memory are real.

“I’ve learned over the years, you don’t come to terms with it. It’s something that affects me in some way every day,” he said.

Lee has a unique perspective on death as he sees the faces of death almost daily.

“I’ve seen deaths since I was 21 years old,” he said, describing his time working for a funeral home and in the military before he was first appointed coroner in 1999. “And I just turned 60.”

“That’s a lot of faces. There are many, many, many that come back to my memory every single day,” he said.

Lee said he has been witness to deaths by natural causes, accidents, but the ones that are the worst, he said involve children and youth.

“I see them all,” he said, describing the myriad of calls and how he deals with them. “Children are the worst. They are totally dependent upon someone else for their care.”

Lee said he tries to be professional and block out the emotions of dealing with death on a daily basis.

“It’s an inner feeling of grief, but you know you have a job to do.

“But to look in the faces of these 13, 14, 15, 16 year olds … I don’t wish on anybody.

“The job we have is a tough job,” he said. “You don’t just go home and it goes away. I have a strong faith in God and without Him I know I would not be able to do this.”

“I have cases in my head from 1999 and 2000 that pop into my head almost each day,” he said.

The recent murders of young people in our community weigh heavy on Lee.

“It breaks my heart,” he said. “I actually felt numb for the fact that I see these things. Those are avoidable.

“It breaks my heart, and it’s like I’ve said everything in the English language to say I’m sorry, to express grief and it’s just not enough.”

Lee said the problems that lead to violence among small segments of our community’s youth are complicated, but the source for fixing them is clear.

“Law enforcement cannot do it all,” he said. “This has to be done beginning in the home.”

“Right now, if it doesn’t begin at the home, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

“These kids have to have adult guidance. From the time they’re in kindergarten at least until up until their high school years,” the father of four said.

“My parents were disciplinarians and that followed me all the way through high school and college,” he said. “They set a standard at home and we followed that standard until we were no longer in their care. My parents knew where I was all the time.”

Lee said the model his parents provided influenced his own parenting style.

“I’m not ashamed to say, when my kids came home and went to sleep, we searched their book bags,” he said. “Just to make sure there was nothing there that didn’t need to be there or any indications of something going on that shouldn’t have been. Parents must be responsible for their children.”

As law enforcement tries to grapple with the problem of armed teenagers, with hormones coursing through their veins trying to settle disputes with firearms, Lee said he is praying that parents, family and friends begin to take control again.

If even one or two people do that, lives could be saved and potentially one less young person could become a still image in Lee’s memory for years to come.

“I just don’t know what else to say or what else to do, but it has to stop.”

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.