It was his birthday. He was 11 years old and all his friends were coming to the roller skating rink for the party. The young boy was excited and happy. What a fun day for a little boy. His mom had worked so hard to plan the party and make sure relatives and friends would be there. At 5:30 PM, it was anticipation and laughter and excitement. By 6:30 PM, the air was filled with music and action and stolen glances between the boys and girls skating and celebrating the birthday boy. But with fifteen minutes left in the party, at 7:15 PM, the exciting day took an unimaginable turn. Dad arrived and started arguing with Mom. And then, Dad pulled a gun and shot Mom in front of the birthday boy and his three year old sister. As Dad stood over his dead Mom, he said, “I told you so.” Pandemonium was everywhere as people quickly realized what was happening. Children were running, people were screaming. Then, Dad shot three of Mom’s family members. The terrified little boy begged for his life as his Dad pointed the gun at him. Dad spared his life by turning the gun and killing himself right in front of his son.
There was screaming, terror, and weeping. People raced out of the rink with their skates still on. There was blood everywhere. Death was the epilogue of the private birthday party. Police arrived. Ambulances arrived. The birthday boy will never forget it, never get over it, and never live a day without thinking about it. Police have not released the boy’s name.
Within hours it would make the local news and the national news. And the familiar phrases would appear – Fox News called it a “domestic dispute” and WLFI 18 called it a “domestic disturbance.” As if on cue when a domestic violence homicide occurs, the media quickly pulls out of their lexicon the clear evidence of their own ignorance about domestic violence. The Associated Press would call it a “spat” between family members. The owner of the roller skating rink said “there was nothing anyone could do to prevent this”, re-opened for business the next day, and called the shooting “random.” Police said the birthday boy and his sister were “not hurt” in the attack. Later, “authorities” were quoted as saying the children were “unharmed.”
As I write just days later, no one has called it predictable. No one has called it preventable. No one has called it a mass murder though the FBI defines mass murder as four murders or more with no “cooling off period” between the deaths. No one has put it in the context of the four women that are killed every day in this country by their abusive partners. The national news story is fading away in a flurry of stories about heat in the Midwest and East Coast. The debt ceiling debate has once again filled the news. And no one is talking about the killer’s history of abuse, and threats. No one is talking about the protection order that Mom had against Dad. No one is talking about the lifelong journey of trauma and pain facing those children. In fact, one attendee at the party summed it up for most of America – “This too shall pass.”
But don’t be deceived. It will not “pass” for the sweet little boy or his three year old sister. They will live with it for the rest of their lives. Every child at the party will live with it. We will move on but they will be forever scarred by that “domestic dispute.” That “domestic disturbance” will no longer disturb most of the public even in Grand Prairie, Texas but a whole bunch of children will be disturbed for the rest of their lives.
In the tragic aftermath of the domestic violence killings in Grand Prairie this last week, I would propose that every one reading this can still honor the young, innocent birthday boy with a gift. Let me suggest a list for those that don’t know how to remember him and honor him:
1. Donate money to your local domestic violence shelter or a community-based agency working with children exposed to domestic violence. It is estimated there are 3-5 million women being abused by their intimate partners each year in the United States. It is estimated there are 3-10 million children witnessing violence in their homes every year. So many caring agencies need your support to help victims and their children across America.
2. Donate money through the Safe City Commission in nearby Tarrant County, Texas where they are planning a model Family Justice Center for the country to address high risk domestic violence situations like this and are also doing tremendous work with children exposed to violence.
3. Members of the Media: Pledge to never again use the phrases “domestic dispute”, “spat”, or “domestic disturbance” when talking about a domestic violence mass murder.
4. Police authorities: Never again say that the children were “unharmed” or “not hurt” after witnessing the murder of their parents. Make sure your agency has a High Risk Case Protocol for domestic violence situations. If you don’t have one, reach out to the National Family Justice Center Alliance for our model protocol and then implement it.
5. Caring Americans: Find out what your local community is doing to address domestic violence and offer support for victims of domestic violence and their children and then get involved in advocating with your local elected officials to make this public safety issue, and very “non-random” type of killing, a higher priority. Demand that no victim dies in vain and that every community commits to learn from these preventable homicides every time they happen.
The birthday boy deserves our time and attention. Will you do something today in honor of his birthday?