FERGUSON, Mo. — Nearly two weeks after a white police officer shot an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager, sparking sustained and occasionally violent protests that made the name of this St. Louis suburb known throughout the world, the National Guard began to withdraw on Friday — a sign that some normality had returned.
Heeding Gov. Jay Nixon's orders to leave, five days after he had summoned them, soldiers began their exit.
While making the rounds in north St. Louis County on Friday, the governor said Ferguson would soon see a "smaller presence" by the National Guard. But he said he had not imposed a particular date for a complete withdrawal, adding, "We're leaving it up to the folks as to what their needs are."
But the Guard's withdrawal, coupled with other measures by law enforcement to reduce its presence, did not mean that life continued as if this muggy August were no different than any other. Ferguson has been altered, and its story is far from over.
A grand jury of nine whites and three blacks continued to hear evidence about the deadly clash Aug. 9 between the Ferguson officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown, although the decision whether to indict the officer could take months. And the Department of Justice has begun to investigate allegations of civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department.
Then there is Monday, when the delayed school year is expected to begin, and the funeral for Brown is to be held.
"It's obvious that Monday is going to be an emotional day," said Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who has been supervising the large police presence in Ferguson, especially at the nightly protests that have been relatively calm in recent days after several nights of fitful violence.
"Any of us who have lost a loved one understand that emotions are high, so I understand that," he said. "I believe emotions will be high, but I am not planning on or have a mindset of disaster either."
But Johnson said he had been heartened by the things he has seen and heard on the streets in recent days — "small steps, small gains," he said, that informed the decision to reduce law enforcement's footprint in the area.
He said that elders and clergy members in this community of 21,000 have shared encouraging signs that while the outrage has not subsided, people are more open to conversation.