Sunday, May 14, 2017

Our Own Terrible Horrible Day

As I wrote last week, this past Friday was the sentencing hearing for the shooter in Kim’s and my son’s murder. By any definition, it wasn’t easy. We didn’t know what to expect.

Honestly, it was Our Own Terrible Horrible Day.

I had only seen a newspaper picture of the shooter. At the time he was charged, he was a skinny, little kid of fifteen. My father-in-law remarked that at the first hearing, the young man would turn around and smirk, and that smirk left our families angry.

I was prepared to see something of a monster. I was prepared to hate the boy. While the two assistant state prosecutors did their best to explain what we would see and hear, no amount of preparation prepared us for what we were to see and hear.

We learned a little bit more about how Wil was shot which was hard to hear, and the specific statements by witnesses led to some confusion and even more anger. When one of the assistant state prosecutors asked a series of questions, the young man responded with a soft, “Yes, Sir.”

Then it came time for us to present the “victim impact statement.” The four of us, Kim, Hannah, Emily and I wrote it together. What was difficult was that the statement couldn’t “bash” the defendant; the judge; the sentence; or the system. We were to state the impact Wil’s murder had on us. Each of us had a few edits. My brother, Jack, supplied the final paragraph.

From what Kim and the girls said, there were quite a few tears as I read our statement. They continued when Maria's brother, Tim, read Maria’s statement. As difficult as it was to put thoughts into words and words onto paper, I know it was difficult to listen to these two statements.

The young man sobbed almost through the whole process, especially so during both of the impact statements. He never raised his eyes from the floor if he opened them at all.    

We were all taken aback when it was time for the young man's mother to speak. She lectured, actually yelled at us on how we should feel and act towards her son. The assistant state prosecutor had to ask the court to stop her. I can tell you it left us angry. Looking back, she was a mom who was embarrassed and hurt and scared. I get that now two days and a thousand miles later. I get that.

The young man was given the opportunity to read his own statement. His hand shook as he took it out of the envelope. Again, he sobbed. His lawyer had to read it because the young man was too emotional.

Honestly, the young man wrote a very sincere and heart-felt statement about how sorry he is for the pain his actions have caused. He said he has rejected gang life and that he wants to help others like him make better decisions and be better people.

Deep down, Kim, Hannah, Emily and I know that no amount of justice or time in prison will bring Wil back. That one senseless, heartless act took Wil away from us.  

Our girls will not get another chance to be with their brother. They won’t get another chance to receive the birthday call from him and Maria singing happy birthday to them.

There’s an empty seat at the table now. Every Christmas our family tries to ignore it. There aren’t any more phone calls. None of us will ever get a phone call just to ask how it’s going. Each of us has a voicemail, and every time one of our phones gets switched, panic sets in because we are afraid to lose one of the only links to Wil we have. Just like his life, just like his smile, we’re afraid we’ll lose that, too.

Wil wasn’t there for Emily’s graduation from high school, but she certainly thought about him that day. He won’t be there when Hannah or Emily graduate from college. He was not there when Emily played her first collegiate soccer game, which tore at her because he was always pushing her to get where she is today. He never got to see her play and she wanted to share her first collegiate start with him. But she couldn’t because Wil was gone.

Hannah threw herself into school. Each of us have been worried because she was away and we couldn’t be there for her. We watched as she developed anxiety about being away from home. We watched her try to keep all of her feelings in, for Emily’s sake. In one day Hannah lost the one person she turned to talk to at odd hours of the day, the person she relied on to keep her secrets, the person she went to for advice and the person who was her best friend.

We’ve watched Maria change. It is as if an important piece of her soul is missing. Her smile isn’t as bright as it once was. We feel like we’ve drifted away from Maria, and we feel like she has drifted away from us, but we understand because it is just too hard. There are too many reminders and each of those reminders and each of those memories are painful.

One stupid, senseless and heartless choice changed our family forever. One senseless act, one heartless act, took our son and Hannah’s and Emily’s brother, and Maria’s husband away. Wil is gone. Wil is dead. Wil has been murdered.

So, the young man, now eighteen, wrote a statement which was read by his attorney. The young man apologized. He stated his determination to change. He rejected gangs and gang life. He wants to help other, younger kids from making the same mistakes and choices he has made.

Do we believe him?

A part of me really wants to but his actions will ultimately tell the real story. I put a lot of stock in actions. I’ve written in other posts that actions manifest what is in a person’s heart. Words, on the other hand, are meaningless without the actions to back them up.

I will never forgive what the young man did on the afternoon of July 12, 2014. Never. That one decision, that one choice affected so many and altered our lives in ways we’re still trying to understand.
But . . .

If Wil's death helps this young man change his life for the better, then it would help give me . . . perhaps give us . . . a little peace.

I’ve written in many posts of my belief in the good of man. I’ve written that while there is ugliness in our world, each of us can, and should, work to make it better. We make it better by our choices, by our words, but mostly by our actions. I have to believe in the ultimate good in man. I have to. So, while I cannot and will not forgive the young man’s choice, the young man’s action, I can and will forgive the young man himself. I think Wil would want that. I sincerely believe that.   

So perhaps Our Own Terrible Horrible Day might, in time . . . in a long, long time, turn out . . .

So many emotions, so much to process. Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

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Thank you for your comment. I welcome your thought. Joe