Our Newsmaker for 2012 is the heartbreaker of the year; not a person but rather a story, a saga — of a smart, vivacious young woman who summoned a courage most of us will never know. It’s also a story about the cops and prosecutors who helped turn what could have been a years-long, excruciatingly emotional and legal ordeal into something that, while it will never be palatable or cross justice’s threshold, is thankfully behind us. And this is the story of a community that found its glue in the worst of horrors, and of the stubborn hope and faith that thrived in the shadow of a grim reality: beautiful young women go missing, but they rarely come home alive.

Mickey Shunick was gone before most of us knew she was missing, buried in a shallow grave on the Cajun prairie by a psychopath whose name hardly deserves mention, a psychopath who spun a fabric of lies that would ultimately enwrap and entrap him; who was bruised, cut and bloodied by a “victim” he didn’t bargain for — injuries that, perhaps more than anything, exposed the horrific monster whose mother named Brandon Scott Lavergne when he entered this world to wreck it.

mickeyWe know the story by heart: the ill-fated bicycle ride across town in the early-morning hours of Saturday, May 19. The missing person report later that day, the day her little brother graduates from high school. It is two days before her 22nd birthday, and for weeks the media identifies her as 22-year-old Mickey Shunick, clinging with the community to that stubborn hope that she is alive, that she had a birthday. Somewhere. Somehow. A community rallies, plastering Lafayette with flyers, organizing concerts, manning a command center. The press conferences. The grainy surveillance footage. The national media. The rumors. The arrest. The confession. The perp walk. The plea deal. Angola. Life.

But the Mickey Shunick story isn’t about her disappearance or her death. It’s about the light that illuminated a community, brought strangers together and made us appreciate life’s ephemeral gifts.

A bicycle, painted white, sits atop a pole near the spot where Mickey was abducted, the spot where evil punctured a membrane and, briefly, let darkness pour in. It’s an appropriate memorial — pure and bright like the life that inspired it. And as we pass beyond the margins of grief and outrage, we pull our children a little closer, hug them a little longer, love them a little deeper.

That’s what our 2012 Newsmaker of the Year gave us. That’s Mickey Shunick.

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