Everyone knew something was up with Alyssa Moore last Friday, according to Kim Koehler. Koehler was playing at Murphy's that night, and as they spoke, Moore, who runs sound at the bar, was constantly interrupted with texts. “I think some of the texts were from him,” said Koehler. “He was letting her know something was going to happen.”
By now, most of us have heard or seen the horrific events that took place at Murphy's that night. Jared McLemore, local audio engineer and musician, committed suicide by self-immolation, attempting to harm and terrorize others as he did so. His troubled psyche was not a secret to most of the community in recent months.
Moore, his estranged girlfriend, had reported him to the Memphis Police Department multiple times, starting when he first threatened to kill her last September. She had a restraining order placed on him. After that, he was institutionalized for a time, only to gain release and make his way back to Memphis. Only days before, he sent Moore an image of himself with a gun to his head, then broke into her home and threatened her again. He was clearly more disturbed than ever. A concerned roommate called the Memphis Police Department well before the incident at Murphy's, but to no avail. Moore, who also engineers and manages the rechristened Move the Air Studio next door, was at her usual job at the Murphy's mixing board that night.
The best account of what happened next comes from the GoFundMe site (www.gofundme.com/alyssa-moores-recovery-fund) where Jessie Anäis Honoré initiated a campaign to raise money in support of her friend:
“[McLemore] walked through the crowded bar, making his presence known to all of the patrons. He crossed the street, and when he saw Alyssa had walked outside, he quickly doused his body with more kerosene and lit himself on fire, streaming on Facebook Live, in full view of onlookers concerned for Alyssa's safety.
Murphy's patron Paul Garner tried to stop Jared and ended up hospitalized with second degree burns. Jared ran for Alyssa, in his final attempt to take what he was supposedly denied, by trying to catch her on fire too. Jared underestimated Alyssa though, because she didn't freeze in fear. She held the door to Murphy's open for everyone running from him inside to safety. When Jared finally reached the door, Alyssa held it closed trying to lock it to keep him from her and anyone else. He pushed his body against the door and the heat from the flames finally became too much for Alyssa to stand. She made a fast decision and screamed at everyone to 'RUN!' and then she ran too.”
To some, this highlights how determined, resourceful, and strong a woman must be in the face of terror, even if she has done everything right. Koehler faced a similar situation in Knoxville over a decade ago, yet could not get the local mental health professionals to respond. It too culminated with her ex trying to burn her alive – she was saved by a thunderstorm – and then killing himself. The memories were overwhelming as Koehler joined other patrons' efforts to extinguish McLemore.
Like Koehler, Moore had been compassionate in the months leading up to the incident. As her family wrote, “We want to make clear that this happened because of a perfect storm of domestic abuse, the stigma around it, and the visceral reality of mental illness. Alyssa tried to help Jared, and she also had to keep herself safe from him.”
Garner feels the incident could have been avoided if the police had responded more quickly. Some point to the under-staffing of the MPD as the problem. Therapeutic care has also received short shrift since Ronald Reagan slashed federal funding of mental health programs in the 1980s. While progress has been made in recognizing domestic violence and its links to mental health, last weekend's events underscore how far we have to go.
“Many situations like this just fester in darkness,” says Koehler. “There are still men and women out there who are suffering silently and alone and who have done all the right things, and are still having the person come and mess with them. And now were are left to deal with the effects. But this violent act does not need to define us, or defile us. We are beyond what the perpetrator did. ”
Those needing support for domestic violence issues or mental health assistance can contact the Memphis Family Shelter at 901-278-2728.