Our Worst Fears Realized

Posted: May 29, 2014 in Dispatches from the Edge: Editorials

9-11, Columbine and Sandy Hook. And now, the weekend of May 23, 2014 will forever go down as one of the blackest periods in American history as I know it. That evening, Elliot Rodger emailed a 138-page “manifesto” to his parents and his therapist… after hacking three of his roommates to death. He then proceeded to take the lives of three others, before ending his own with a bullet to the head.

Isla Vista 3 Isla Vista 1

Some of the victims had been friends of my stepdaughter’s friends. My partner and I wept, realizing that any of our own girls and their friends could have been victims, too, had they been in the same sorority house, or even the same area. One father, Richard Martinez, had just seen his son less than an hour before the shootings began. It would be the last time he’d see him alive. I cannot even imagine the pain. But that was only the beginning for me. I had an ominous feeling that there was more to come.

Isla Vista 2

A young friend, an old student of mine at Crespi High School, told me that Elliot Rodger had been a classmate of his in 2005 — the same time I’d taught there. It shocked me, like a jolt of lightning, to realize that I had some sort of indirect link, not just with the victims… but with the killer. He had never been one of my own students. I would have remembered him, even among the ranks of scrawny, long-haired, soft-spoken runts that tiptoed the testosterone-filled, macho environment of Crespi. I didn’t know any of the other students he named in his manifesto, bullies who tormented him during his short stay. All the same, I couldn’t help but think that this shy, quiet boy, with his own inner turmoils and demons, possibly crossed paths with me more than once, even if we hadn’t been in the same immediate space for more than a few seconds.

Elliot Rodger 1

I never knew Elliot Rodger.  He was never in my rosters, never under my charge. So when I learned about him after that fateful day, the name didn’t immediately register. Now, thinking about that proximity devastates me in a way I may not fully fathom. If one of my loved ones had perished at Isla Vista, I would lose my will to live. But to possibly know — or even be literally close — to someone who would perpetrate such a hateful act, makes me feel like a murderer, an unwitting accomplice who will be forever damned, for those seven deaths.

As a teacher, I learned early on that it wasn’t so much the lesson in the classroom that was the most important thing, but the “intangibles,” the invaluable life lessons from hard experience, that mattered most. How to be a respectable Man or Woman, a righteous Citizen of the world. Protect the lesser of our brethren. I have much more to say later on, as to how Crespi failed in that regard. For my part, though, I tried to live up to that bargain. I imparted whatever imperfect knowledge I could share. I was relentlessly harsh when I disciplined my boys, but I never once laid a finger on them. Most important of all, though, I promised myself that I would protect my boys, not just from the outside elements, but from the cruelties within. That meant protecting them from each other, from bullies, from a cold, heartless administration that had been corrupted by money and power. Often, that meant standing toe-to-toe with a larger kid, if he tried to pick on one of my boys. Always the scrapper, I wasn’t afraid to take down a belligerent if I had to. Even other teachers could be bullies. I nearly got into a fight with a colleague after he started to verbally abuse my students. For that one act, I’d won my students’ respect. I’d do it again, too. I’d walk through fire for them, if it meant that they would safely cross into that threshold called Adulthood.

My teaching years are behind me, but I’ve managed to keep track of some of my old students. Many of them have finished college, married and now have children. Many are now nurses, doctors, lawyers, and even teachers. A few signed up to serve our country. One of my boys proudly told me that he had just joined the Navy, and was well on his way to becoming a tech working alongside the famed Navy SEALs. He had just married and was now starting a family of his own.

Isla Vista 4

Elliot Rodger will never see that now. Neither will any of the six victims in Isla Vista, who all died because of our collective failure to protect them. I hold the NRA and the entire gun-lobby movement responsible, for failing to empathize, to constructively find a solution to the madness. I hold our government, especially Congress, responsible, for failing to look out for our true interests, spinelessly kowtowing to the interests of a tyrannical few. I hold our society responsible, for fostering this culture of greed, a zero-sum game that pushes a winner-take-all agenda, where the strong bully the weak, instead of protecting them. Where misfits are bred into irreversible madmen.

Most of all, I blame us, all of us. For failing to do the right thing, for failing to hold our own leaders and institutions accountable. I blame us — parents, teachers, therapists, friends, even bystanders, for not watching out, for not doing enough, to stop wrong from happening. It was never just about preventing one madman from doing harm; it was about preventing madmen from becoming who they are, until their tragic end. The shame is all equally ours to pay. My heart is heavy with pain and regret for our collective failure.

Until we all gather enough courage to protect our people — not with guns, but with good, sensible upbringing — we will forever be condemned to keep suffering more of these tragedies. Until then, God have mercy on us all.

Copyright © 2014 The Anabases

  1. blanca Datuin says:

    May the nation listen.

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