A few years ago I heard the story like everyone else in the area: a boy and his parents murdered in their home. No one knew who had done it. It sent chills down my back. When I heard the boy responsible for the murders was a teenager, I felt horrible for everyone and what had brought them to this point of tragedy. Several years later, I stumbled across the father of the boy who committed these crimes. We had a mutual friend who had asked us both to speak on a panel about writing on loss. I knew I wanted to get to know him better. Since that time, Tim has published a book on his journey titled Refuse to Drown and he shares below about the response from his community following his son’s arrest.
After reading No one brings dinner when your daughter is an addict I could imagine Tim’s community shutting him out after his son’s arrest. I wondered if I would have. But Tim had a different outcome, and I’m proud to live in the area near the community that continued to support him during this tragedy. How are you supporting your community?
It was June of 2007 – Father’s Day weekend and my oldest son had just been arrested for the murders of one of his best friends and both of his friend’s parents. It had been an unsolved crime for that last 30 days. The catalyst for his arrest was a statement I gave to the police regarding information Alec had divulged to his mother and me.
In that moment I was filled with dread about what the future held not just for my son but also for the rest of our family and myself.
The only experience I had with this type of situation was what I had seen in the movies and on the news. My mind was filled with intense fear that we would need to move out of the area; I’d have to pull my youngest son out of school and away from all of his friends; hate mail and public scorn awaited us.
Other thoughts of the community’s reaction festered in my mind. How long would it be until I could go out in public without being “noticed”? Everyone would know who I was and would pass judgment against me. What a horrible father I must have been to raise a son who committed such a crime.
But I would soon be amazed at what was about to happen…
It started that Saturday. The day the news first hit the media and my son was arrested. The news broke in on the U.S. Open golf tournament. This tragedy was that “big” and high profile. It only took minutes for the news to spread through the community!
It didn’t take long for a gathering to appear in my neighbor’s front yard. I had lived there for several years and this was the first “community meeting” I had ever witnessed. Lynn and I decided to walk over and see what was up. We knew what had been the catalyst for this gathering, and we approached everyone with a sense or wariness. What happened next still amazes me.
We were welcomed with open arms! The compassion and grace shown to us was incredible. We were offered an escape to their homes if we needed it, they all were committed to not talking to the press and were adamant that they wouldn’t let anyone “hang out” in front of their homes. They would in effect create a wall of privacy, a safe zone around our home.
This was only the beginning. Shortly after the news hit the media I began to receive mail. I opened the first letter with trepidation. What sort of hate and venom awaited me inside? To my amazement, it was a long letter of support and encouragement from someone in our community I had never met. It would be the first of many such letters, some from friends and family but many from complete strangers. The letters provided support not just for me but many also showed compassion for Alec.
The shame and stigma I was so certain would follow my family and me through the community never materialized.
In fact, the response of the community – the positive outreach and support helped me overcome the shame and blame I had so heavily laid on my own shoulders. Their support made the weight a little less heavy. It was comforting to know I was not alone and that others stood by me and supported me.
I never felt excluded, judged or condemned by the community. Friends, family, co-workers, my children’s friends and families rallied to support my family with letters, cards, meals and offers to help us “get away” if we needed to.
The comfort and encouragement provided by these small acts of kindness can not easily be overstated.
It is very likely I would not be where I am today if it were not for this powerful community response. If I had been persecuted by the community, ignored, judged and made to feel alone and isolated on the road back to being a healthy and joyful person, it would have been far more difficult and perhaps a journey I never would have been able to make.
I hope that everyone hears this message, takes to heart their role as a member of the community and uses this power for the good of others.
A community has the power and more importantly the responsibility to change the direction of lives!