The local newspaper gave almost as much space to the killer as it did to his four dead victims. The entire front page of the Fayetteville Observer-Times was filled with stories, which bled onto the other pages, describing the terror and destruction brought by Sergeant Kenneth Junior French and describing the man himself.
French was very drunk that night — not surprising. What was surprising were the sympathetic articles about French just two days after the bloodshed. I had never seen such balanced coverage of a murder – much less a quadruple murder.
According to the Observer-Times, French had phoned his brother, sister and mother earlier in the evening and was obviously upset. He was
depressed about his father’s suicide two years ago and the cruel disease that threatened his teen-age brother’s life, family members said.
“He was worried about me,” Sgt. French’s 17 year old brother, Kevin French, said from his family’s home in Zephyrhills, Fla. “I have cystic fibrosis. I’m the little one of the family.”
Sgt. French’s grandfather . . . said that Kevin doesn’t have long to live. Sgt. French was depressed over his dad, too, his mother said. . . .
[Neighbors] had nothing but respect for the French family. “They’d give you the shirts off their backs,’ a neighbor said. Kenneth Junior French in particular seemed to earn his neighbors’ respect, trust and love. “I thought of him as my own son,” the same neighbor explained. “He used to baby-sit my children. My kids idolized him.”
. . . .
“He was such an outstanding human being. . . . He was so fun-loving and comical. I had never seen him angry. He was never hostile.”
But all had not been well in the French household. Kenneth’s father “could be especially hard on Kenneth. . . . ‘He used that boy like a dog,’ [reported Kenneth’s uncle]. ‘He wouldn’t let any other kids over. He wouldn’t let the kids do nothing.’” About two years ago, Kenneth’s parents separated and his father “took out a gun and killed himself.” Kenneth joined the army.
Just 22, Kenneth had already served in Korea, South Carolina and, now, North Carolina. He had received “the Army Commendation medal, two Army Achievement medals, the Army Service ribbon, the National Defense Service medal and a Good Conduct medal.” As for his position on gays in the military, his neighbor reported, “’He said he really didn’t care, as long as they didn’t flaunt it in his face.’”
One quote from a neighbor particularly hit home for me: “none of this made any sense.”