I am a Colorado documentary filmmaker. Earlier this year, I was commissioned to help make a Rocky Mountain PBS film about the long-term health impacts of gun violence survivors.
During production, I interviewed Tom Mauser. Tom’s son Daniel was one of the children shot and killed at Columbine High School. During our long interview, Tom said something that has stuck with me.
Tom said he could never forgive the shooters for taking his son’s life, but he had forgiven them for being two lost and disturbed young people. And that’s what has got me thinking in the wake of this week’s horror in my own back yard. I live in Douglas County, Colorado.
My children have grown up going to the same elementary school as one of the shooters. Likely, we saw this child and his/her parents at the sock hop, or field day. We were there together.
I, like most everyone in my community, am overwhelmed by the horror of losing Kendrick Castillo.
I am filled with anguish knowing the incredibly difficult rehabilitation that lies ahead for the children who were injured by the shooters.
For Kendrick and the other students who helped stop the shooters, they will always be revered as absolute heroes. That part is easy. The difficult work lies ahead for all of us here in Douglas County and for every community struck by the social plague of school shootings.
In a reliable and predictable good versus evil narrative, authored and amplified by a market-driven 24/7 news industry and political opportunists, we will make ourselves sick on speculation, never getting closer to the core illness that has struck our communities, and to a large part our nation.
To be clear, I am not taking a position one way or the other on guns. Nor do I in any way condone the actions of these young shooters. But we are ill. We’ve been infected with a virus and our collective body is anxiety-stricken, confused, angry and scared.
We see the symptoms of something profoundly wrong right before our own eyes. We’ve already seen the parade of politicians, advocacy groups and the gun rights groups wrestling for the spotlight, each scratching out their turf on the opportunity to criticize. We are all being played in the most tragic of times, only if we choose to accept the spin and churn.
My heart is broken for the Castillo family. They will never see Kendrick graduate. They will never see him grow up, get married and have kids of his own. But my heart also has broken for the Ericksons and the McKinney families. They will now see their children grow up in jail. These two kids will never again be celebrated by their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.
As my kids have grown up through the Douglas County school system, I have lived and witnessed the deep anxiety and uncertainty they have lived through. The bullying, the pressure from social media. It never ever stops. And it impacts our family. We all try to put on our best social media faces, but I have to believe there are other families like ours, feeling the crushing, invisible pressure all around us.
We can’t know what went on behind the walls of the shooters’ homes. But I do know that no family is perfect. In our veneer of perfection, our bubbles of perceived happiness, there are deep troubles that secretly, we all deal with.
It’s in those tiny, little moments of everyday life that add or subtract to our childrens’ self-esteem. Sometimes we help them. Oftentimes we hurt them and do not realize it.
As we move forward, we may be tempted to look at the shooters as monsters. That’s easy. We may be tempted to ostracize their parents; also easy. We will be tempted to be sucked into the nonstop churn of news, talk and entertainment, as they scrape, scrape, scrape to come up with something new to talk about. We will be lulled into passing judgment. It’s comfortable and predictable, and easy.
But before we break out the torches and pitchforks, let’s remember who we really are.
Living in Douglas County for more than 50 years, growing up in these same schools, I have seen the very best in this community.
We have come together before for the greater good on a number occasions. If we ever hope to break free from this deadly cycle that has worn us down raw, we will need to dig deeper, with a more thoughtful approach.
Now, I hope we can try and come together again as a community. This will not be easy.
We have the difficult task of softening our hearts and opening our minds with compassion and empathy to try and mitigate the underlying roots that lead some vulnerable young people down such a misled path. It won’t be easy to resist the temptation to write off the shooters and their families as monsters.
But we have the capacity to be good enough and smart enough to not fall into the political and emotional traps that have been set for us. My hope is we will do the difficult work and show the nation our better angels.
It won’t be easy.
Brian Malone is a Colorado-based documentary filmmaker and member of the Colorado Press Association. He is working on a film that in part features The Colorado Sun.