Some of the online comments – on our Web site and others – have been truly insensitive in the aftermath of the attack on the Internal Revenue Service office in Austin, Texas (see article today). Some commenters seem to imply that the attacker, Joseph Stark, was a hero.
What they forget is that a real person – not an IRS bogeyman – was killed. His name was Vernon Hunter, and he was a husband, father, grandfather and Vietnam veteran.
In a statement, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman had this to say about Hunter:
On February 18th, a small plane was intentionally crashed into an office building in Austin, Texas where almost 200 IRS employees work. This wanton act of violence took the life of Vernon Hunter, 68, who served his nation as an IRS employee for almost three decades. Others were injured, and given the enormous damage to the building, it is a miracle that more were not killed.
Our deepest sympathies go out to all who suffered through this terrible ordeal, but especially to the Hunter family and their neighbors, friends and colleagues who are struggling to make sense out of this senseless attack.
They are struggling to understand why Mr. Hunter was so callously slain. Why a husband won’t come home for dinner. Why a father, grandfather and loyal family man won’t be there for holidays and birthdays. Why the church usher won’t be at Sunday services at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Why a soldier who honorably served our nation and survived two tours in Vietnam died a senseless and violent death in Austin, Texas.
Sadly, in the mind of one deeply disturbed individual, it was because Mr. Hunter worked in a building that housed the Internal Revenue Service. IRS employees were demonized – human beings no longer to be respected – human life no longer to be valued.
In today’s world, it is difficult for some to see beyond the labels – to see the person. Mr. Hunter worked for the IRS – a difficult and demanding job. But he did his job fairly and he did it well. He was a dedicated public servant who respected taxpayers and their rights. He viewed serving the taxpaying public as a high and noble calling and went out of his way to help taxpayers whenever he could.
And there are tens of thousands of Vernon Hunters throughout the country working at the IRS helping taxpayers navigate a difficult tax code that we did not write and collecting the taxes to keep our nation vibrant and strong.
The person standing next to you at your daughter’s soccer game may be an IRS customer service representative who answers difficult tax questions over the phone. The guy down the street helping with the community food drive may be a revenue agent who investigates wealthy individuals trying to hide money in secret offshore bank accounts. And the woman behind you in the supermarket check-out line may work at the IRS processing tax refunds.
For some in America, the IRS will always be viewed as a faceless bureaucracy. But they are wrong. In fact, it is an organization of hard-working people whose love of country and spirit of public service were embodied in Vernon Hunter – a spirit that lives on in them today. I sincerely hope that is one lesson we can learn from this terrible tragedy.
Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service