Outside the first cold drops of a winter rain began slowly falling.
Inside the first salty tears from those affected began flowing.
Outside stood trees, bare of the autumn's color, gray and lifeless.
Inside sat the defendant, detached, and seemingly oblivious to the events around him.
Thursday Vance Mills was sentenced to 11-30 years in prison for robbing LeFave Pharmacy on April 25 of this year.
When Mills walked through the LeFave doors that afternoon, however, he did more than rob the pharmacy of prescription drugs he was addicted to. He robbed the store's employees and customers that day of peace of mind, sense of security and personal freedom.
Employees woke up that morning listening to the first sounds of robins in the air and the promise that at long last, winter was shedding its last hold on the region and signs of spring were everywhere. Just the day before many had gone to church for Easter service and listened to sermons of resurrection and new life. So it was with the world around them as new flowers emerged from the ground and from once dormant trees grew new sprouts of green.
Little did they know that just hours later, staring down the barrel of a rifle, their own lives would be flashing through their minds. Who will care for my wife? What will become of my children? Who will tend to the needs of my loved ones?
Customers woke up that morning with an assortment of aches and pains. It had been a restless night for several as the bones seemed to creak a little more, the knees and joints wouldn't quite react as quickly as they had the week before.
Some had headaches. Others had body aches. Hours later, all would have heartaches as they stood inside the store scared, stunned and angry.
Many were in a hurry that afternoon, out on their lunch hour from work, taking care of running errands. Life too often was hurry here, hurry there, with little time for themselves. They thought of that as they stood inside the store that day. A masked man with guns slung across his shoulders was something you see on the movie screen or television set, not someone who was standing 12 feet away. Suddenly, life was standing still, as if in slow motion, and they didn't like the feeling at all.
A man woke up that morning with a need he had to satisfy. He wasn't feeling quite right, seemed agitated and out of sorts, yet he had the clarity still to make decisions. One of those decisions would be life changing. Today was the day, he thought, as he planned exactly just how he was going to obtain the pills he needed to get him through the trials and tribulations of another day.
Life isn't easy. There are no guarantees. More often, there are curveballs that seem to come at you out of left field.
The employees expected just another Monday. Instead, they received anything but.
The customers expected just another smile and friendly greeting. Instead, they received harsh commands and ugly expletives.
A desperate and distraught man expected his plan would be fulfilled in Hillman. Instead, he was forced to think again - devise another plan - and pick up ammunition, a bulletproof vest and more reinforcement, before heading to Alpena.
All three groups converged at LeFave Pharmacy that day after Easter, right around noon. It was a day none of them will ever forget.
Seven months and six days after that fateful April day, many of those who found themselves thrown together inside the store that afternoon, found themselves together again - inside a courtroom.
Back in April the wild masked man who looked like Rambo was the one in control. Thursday the tables were turned. That man sat silent, the mask removed and replaced with jail-issued orange.
Through his attorney the defendant issued a statement, talked about his addictions, his misery and his pain. He said he wasn't in his right mind that April day. In describing his addiction, he said he "would not wish my situation on anybody."
Yet for the employees and the customers that afternoon, Mills did exactly that - he shared his situation, his misery, his hopelessness and his addiction with each of them. His cross became their cross, his frustration, their frustration.
And with that, he robbed each and every one of them. All had entered the store that day with a sense of peace. None who left had that peace any longer, it had been stolen from them by a man behind a mask.
They say that time has a way of healing.
Let's hope so. Seven months and six days later, remembering the events seemed just as disturbing as they had then.
For Mills, the story pretty much ended Thursday with his sentence.
For the employees and customers, however, the story still continues with the dawn of each new day.
Someday, prayerfully soon, peace might be restored again.