GALVA — Sherry’s Cafe is a singular, classic joint located in the downtown of this city of 2,600.
Breakfast is served all day. A short stack of pancakes and a bottomless unsweetened tea comes to $5.48 with tax.
The atmosphere is friendly and open.
Asked to name the best item on the menu, a waitress named Sue sang out “Everything, of course” and tilted her head to emphasize the utter outsider-ness of the question.
Asked about the state of Galva in the wake of the June 19 fatal shooting of a 19-year-old named Xavier Hartman, Sue’s smile faded and she offered, “Hang on a second.”
Moments later Deb Massingill emerged from the kitchen to explain.
“You have to understand something right off the bat,” Sherry’s cook for the last six years said. “This town is pretty divided over what happened.
“And I don’t think a lot of people want to talk about what happened. First, they don’t want to been seen as taking sides in this. Second, there are so many rumors around now that people don’t know what to think.
“I’ve heard so many stories, I just hope all us can know exactly what happened that night. I think that might help a lot of people.”
What is alleged is James E. Love shot Hartman in his left thigh during an altercation June 19. That bullet struck Hartman’s femoral artery, which resulted in his death.
According to investigators, the altercation between the two Galva men occurred after Hartman crashed a vehicle he was driving about 300 yards away from Love’s property at 2900 Knox Road 2000E.
Love responded to the scene after hearing the crash and subsequent yelling. Two shots were fired by Love. Hartman was unarmed.
The court proceedings have only added to the confusion, according to a number of Galva residents.
On July 17, a Knox County grand jury declined to hand up an indictment of Love for first-degree murder, instead settling on charges of reckless homicide, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and aggravated discharge of a firearm.
In a rare move, the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office has again filed a first-degree murder charge against the defendant.
The murder charge, if Love is convicted, carries a mandatory prison sentence of 45 years to natural life in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Sherry’s waitress Crissy O’Bryant came into the restaurant before the start of her afternoon shift and willingly offered her opinions on the case.
“Yes, the town is divided over this,” O’Bryant said. “To me, whatever happened shouldn’t have come down to a boy losing his life that night.
“Why take a gun out to scene when you can call the police first?”
O’Bryant said she resents media that pointed out Hartman was on probation for a charge of mob action and had a restraining order — later withdrawn — filed against him by his mother.
“Nothing from that young man’s past has anything to do with what happened that night. What, did James Love know who was out there before he went to the scene of that accident.”
Others tried to defend Love. They wanted to remain anonymous.
“The thing people have to realize that when you live in a rural area, it’s not that strange to carry a sidearm or some weapon out the door with you at night,” a local farmer offered. “I don’t claim to know what happened that night — but the idea that James Love went down that road with the intent to kill someone is ridiculous.”
A number of locals explained Love’s choice to carry a weapon to the scene of the accident as part-and-parcel of another aspect of rural life.
“Trucks and cars hit deer all the time and end up in ditches,” a woman said. “There are times when you have to put down an animal that’s been run over.”
Three men echoed the woman’s sentiment. Those three men also grappled with a way to articulate just how much Love’s shooting of Hartman has wounded their town.
“We live in a time when people see the shooting of black men — and it’s disturbing on all these levels,” one of the men said. “To put it bluntly, here’s an older white guy shooting a mixed-race kid.
“I’m not saying that has anything to do with anything else. But it just adds a layer to this that makes people really kind of scared. People really don’t want to talk about this. There is no way I would ever give my name to this.”
Back in Sherry’s Cafe, a young woman ordered an omelet and offered some advice.
“I would be careful who you ask about the shooting,” she said. “I’m not trying to threaten anyone, but you should know you might get some hostility asking people how they feel or what they think.
“A terrible, terrible thing has happened here. And I don’t know if anyone knows how to figure this out.”