It’s natural to want to understand why someone like James Downs,  co-owner of the beloved Cameron Perks coffee shop in the Alexandria community of Cameron Station, shot his business partner and girlfriend, Dominique Dunford, before turning the gun on himself last week. But I think it’s premature to blame the whole tragic incident on the economy. A man who would kill himself, shoot his loved one in the back (twice), and have a 12-hour stand-off with police has to have deeper troubles.

John Arundel, writing for LocalKicks, has pubished a nice narrative of Downs and Dunford’s brief time as owners of Cameron Perks. Arundel quotes a number of sources, including Alexandria police, who label the incident a “domestic dispute,” which says absolutely nothing, of course. Arundel tried to fill in the holes by talking to friends and neighbors:

But neighbors and friends of Downs told a reporter that the economic stresses of holding together a small business in a tough economy had gotten to him lately, making him edgy and often surly.

Last Thursday at around 10 a.m., the stresses of the deteriorating economy and his failing business got to the 44-year-old entrepreneur.

Downs apparently snapped, shooting his girlfriend and business partner Dominique Dunford in what Alexandria police called a domestic dispute as she tried to escape their townhouse in Cameron Station.

Neighbors of the couple told a reporter that Dunford was shot twice in the back by Downs as she fled to their garage, where she turned the keys of her car and drove straight through the garage door, into the 5000-block of Waple Lane.

Dunford survived the shooting and has been released in good condition from the hospital. The death count, fortunately, was limited to one: Downs himself in an unscripted suicide. Neighbors are quick to point a finger at governments for not helping the middle class more. From Arundel’s report:

“It’s such an unspeakable tragedy,” said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “Cameron Perks was such a gift to this community, but I think it was really hard during these economic times for James and Dominique to hold it together, to make it work financially…There is so much aid available to the lower rungs of our society, from food stamps to housing assistance, but for middle class people like James and Dominique, where do you go?”

In the wake of the tragedy, City Councilman Rob Krupicka had scheduled a forum for Cameron Station residents to speak up on how the city can help small businesses which are failing. “We have great businesses in Alexandria, from the west end to the waterfront,” Krupicka said. “But as our economy struggles, we clearly need to be proactive.”

Maybe the neighbors are right; maybe an infusion of cash would have tamped down Downs’ inner demons. But I’d like to reserve judgment on the economy’s role in this mess until more facts come out about the man who actually pulled the trigger.

Photo courtesy of Cameron Perks