Four shots were fired at Ron Mariani.
One hit a wall in the Mascoutah home, and the pockmark is still there.
One hit a decorative angel.
One hit the baby Jesus, part of an outdoor nativity set, and lodged in his heel.
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And one hit Mariani’s heart, but didn’t change it at all.
‘People ... show goodness’
Mariani, his wife, Leslie, and their sons were moving into their Mascoutah home just a block off Main Street in November. The family had arrived in late October from El Paso, Texas, for Leslie’s job as a U.S. Army chaplain. They had quickly found a church and were living in temporary housing on Scott Air Force Base.
“We found Mascoutah, and just kept coming back to it,” Ron said on Saturday during a “Celebration of Life” party the Marianis held for family and friends now that Ron is recovered from the shooting. Ron is a stay-at-home dad, and had home-schooled sons Ronald III, or “Trais,” who is 12, and Alexander, who is 10, but the family thought the boys would do well to be around more kids.
“Mascoutah has such a good school system, we were happy to enroll them,” he said.
The Marianis settled in at the Assembly of God Church in O’Fallon even before they found their home. The church had a harvest or Halloween event at the end of October, soon after they arrived from Texas, and Leslie thought it would be fun for the boys.
Clint Walker, an associate pastor at the church, said the family’s “willingness to make friends and love people” stood out from the start.
“It seemed they had always been here,” said Kelly Walker, Clint’s wife.
“We got connected right away,” Ron said, saying he had struck up conversation that night with another set of military parents who had children about the same ages of his boys.
Then the family started to move into their new home. Two moving trucks were outside, and they had unloaded one and were to unload the second the next day. Leslie took the boys and their dogs back to the temporary housing, and Ron stayed to keep an eye on things.
Details about the shooting are sketchy. Police are not releasing information about the home invasion and shooting because the investigation is ongoing.
While Ron was at a St. Louis hospital with a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a nick to the heart from a .38-caliber bullet, those new friends would be helping Leslie unpack at the family’s rented home.
“There were boxes everywhere,” Leslie said. “To have them come in and help — singularly amazing.”
There were boxes everywhere. To have them come in and help – singularly amazing.
Leslie Mariani, wife of shooting victim
“The biggest help was when the community of Mascoutah and folks from O’Fallon came to finish unloading and set up the heavy furniture,” Leslie said.
Even after that, the family had 30 days of meals with a different family every night. A friend had set up an online meal train, where volunteers could sign up for a particular meal and bring it to the family.
“For 30 days, to have a different family come into our home and come in and share of themselves with us ... people rise up and show goodness,” Leslie said.
Kelly Walker said Leslie was at Sunday School the day after Ron was shot.
“She came to talk and we prayed with her. She knew where she had to turn,” Walker said.
‘I want to bless people’
On Saturday, it was Ron’s turn to cook for those same friends.
He spent days shaping breads and appetizers, making meatballs and sauces.
“It’s my day, and I want to bless people,” he had told Leslie. “I want to cook.”
The open house Saturday was for all who had helped, all who had brought them food or moved furniture or simply prayed for Ron’s recovery. Leslie will be promoted to lieutenant colonel on Monday, so old friends from Arizona and elsewhere chatted around the kitchen table.
The mayor of Mascoutah stood in the living room, near where Ron had been shot, a space the family had reclaimed as “sacred space” at Christmas by placing the tree there. Police officers milled around with the family’s new friends, who all marveled over Ron’s cooking.
The Marianis never considered leaving the home.
They see the bullet holes, Leslie acknowledged. A door off the foyer has splinters from the bullet passing through; the living room wall has the mark.
But that doesn’t mean they have to be emotional, she said. The first night they returned to the home, police officers in uniform arrived to reassure the family. Leslie said the police talked to the youngest son, and Alex easily drifted off to sleep.
“To think some bad person was going to chase you out of this ...” Leslie said, shaking her head at the idea of leaving the home, built before the 1890s, with its tall ceilings and ornate woodwork, in the school district that came to quickly support their sons.
“I determined ... and my wife came to the same determination, we are not going to succumb to fear. We are going to grow where God plants us,” Ron said.
I determined ... and my wife came to the same determination, we are not going to succumb to fear. We are going to grow where God plants us.
Ron Mariani, shooting victim
Ron has a message to the person who shot him: Find Jesus.
“I’m not angry, and I’m grateful I’m not angry,” he said. “The peace of God surpasses all understanding.”