I'm feeling sympathy for the shooter.
There. I said it. I wrote it out and it will exist as a fact, a public statement that I have lost my mind.
This person killed six people. This person plotted and executed a detailed plan which destroyed the lives of the families and friends of people who had the audacity to spend a sunny Saturday morning with their Congresswoman. Sons and daughters and mothers and fathers were slaughtered; how can the perpetrator be sympathetic to me?
It was much easier when I hated him. In person, he's not a scary guy at all. He's small and pale and had I been paying attention to him instead of to Gabby I bet that Christina-Taylor and I could've decked him ourselves. Puny.... weak.... pipsqueak.... it was easy to talk about him that way. It reminded me that I didn't need to be frightened, that I could defend myself, that I was not vulnerable.
Ridiculous, now, looking back. Of course I was vulnerable... am vulnerable.... as we all are vulnerable. I met a young cancer survivor last Sunday at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. We wished each other well and acknowledged that we were part of an elite group - those who really and truly know that tomorrow is not promised. The world is an altogether scary place when you look at life that way. It makes it easier to imagine the enemy as less than he is. It makes going outside something to do.... not something to fear.
The fear was rational, I suppose. When Miss Marjorie took me out to lunch and I quailed at the sight of a young, white man in a hoodie crossing in front of us, we agreed that it was not that much of an over-reaction. After all, my last encounter with a similar human being resulted in death and destruction. Letting down my guard seemed like ignoring the biggest lesson life had taught me thus far.
The shooter did nothing to diminish my disgust for him. He wore a smirk that needed to be shaken off his face by a woman of a certain age who had a thing or two to tell him.... to ask him... to scream at him loudly with spittle flying. He was disrespectful and penitent within a ten minute span. He was crazy as a loon, he was shackled, there were US Marshals lining the walls of the courtroom - he was the other and I was fine with that.
He killed my little friend. That was all I needed to know. My hip aches and I still can't really hike and it's all his fault. That was enough for me. As long as he was locked up and unable to hurt me again, I could refuse to have him in my brain. Somehow, that felt as if I were taking the high road.
His first competency hearing provided insights into painful uses for plastic utensils, the flinging of bodily fluids, and a refusal to acknowledge that he had failed in his mission. "No one could have survived that close a shot," was one of the few coherent utterances the psychologist referenced that day. Crazy, self-injurious, oblivious to the facts..... he was dismissable. Certainly, there was no reason to find room for him in my heart.
The next hearing was delayed, and delayed, and then delayed once again. By the time 11am rolled around on Tuesday morning, we were sitting in Judge Burns's courtroom, anxious for it all to be over. The prosecutors had briefed us on the plea agreement and the reasoning behind their decision not to seek the death penalty and there were no demurrals from the crowd. We, the survivors and victims and and our families were okay with the deal. There was no bloodlust in that room. There was only sadness and a sense of loss.
I looked around at this part of my extended family, created in chaos but evolved into warmth and love and gratitude and support. We each are needy at different times; some one of us is always ready to lend an ear. We can be dark and foolish and ornery with one another, and the nuance, the back story, the why is understood. We had been hounded by the press, clamoring for our reaction to the news which had been leaked but was not then a fact, all weekend long. We'd had plenty of time to think about where we were and what was going to happen.
A 23 year old was going to admit that he did it.... he was going to accept his punishment.... there would be no need to relive it all through a trial and appeals and parole hearings which would last through all of our natural lives.... we did not have to be connected to the judicially sanctioned execution of a human being... it was certain.
It is also very very sad. Dr. Pietz is a talented woman; she has created the outlines of a human being where once there was only the physical manifestation of mental illness. This was a different person sitting at the defense table, surrounded by his attorneys and one guard, a few feet back from his chair. The first time we saw him, there were five guards with guns at the ready surrounding him at all times.
Someone made the decision that he was safe enough to be handled with less scrutiny; it was the audience they worried about, it seemed. Everyone who entered the courtroom had to pass through a metal detecting wand. The pins in TBG's knee set off a quiet beep which startled us; the guards just smiled and passed us through. That was the last smile of the afternoon.
The more I heard, the more I wept. Beyond the tears when the counts were read... my name... Christina's name.... Gabe and Dory and I didn't even bother to wipe away the tears. By sitting forward, I could watch the shooter's face. He was hearing the charges and, without sneering or smirking or taking a nap, he was absorbing the enormity of what he'd done.
The drugs are still a work in progress; there was a flatness to his affect which may be part of his persona forever more. But there was a person behind the I plead guilty's and the Yes, I understand's and it was unsettling, to say the least.
Suddenly, I couldn't hate him. He was a sick kid whose issues were ignored and who did a terrible thing while under the influence of a chemical imbalance and voices in his head. He planned it, he wrote about it, he justified it in his own mind and we will never know if his beliefs truly changed or if it was schizophrenia talking. Whether he is the pleasant boy who played saxophone in his garage for his neighbors' enjoyment or the teenager who scared friends and teachers and classmates, the facts are the facts - he admitted to wielding a weapon and shooting us. He has to pay.
When he's taking his medication, he's a model inmate. He is not forcibly medicated; that would involve injecting the drugs while he was restrained. He is also not voluntarily medicated; he does not look forward to his next dose. He is involuntarily medicated; he opens his mouth and swallows the pills. He cannot be trusted to administer his own medications and keep himself behaving like a member of a civil society. Without the drugs, he's a crazy person, a killing machine, someone who scares me more than my fingers can type.
And yet, he's younger than my kids and he's living in a box.
How did I get here, denizens? Am I, as Chicago Gal opined at lunch today, on my way to finding peace with this? Is it mercy? I know it's not forgiveness; I'm not there...... yet.......