“Every school shooting is a tragedy. Beyond their common elements however, there are differences, and in the case of Santa Clarita, collateral suffering that may be less obvious — and a lot more difficult for many to accept.”
Written by Renee Kennedy
A mother of two sons (Gavin – age 13, and Tannen – age 6) in the Santa Clarita community where the November 14, 2019 shooting occurred
Growing up, I was taught to always practice compassion and forgiveness — and to understand, and remind myself and others, as needed, that to aspire to fulfill the promise of the “…certain unalienable Rights…” in the opening paragraph of our inspiring Declaration Of Independence, those being “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” we must first demonstrate — and constantly seek ways to expand — the capacity to love one another (which is, of course by no coincidence, the sacred central tenet of every religion). Then I became a mother – and those lessons resonated more than ever.
When confronting a horrific situation, I try to consider/imagine the trauma from the personal perspective of all of the parties who have been affected…I ask myself, “How must these events have played out – from their vantage point?”, “How would I feel?” “How would I react?”“What would I do in their shoes?” And I try to grapple with that which is intrinsically unimaginable, “How would I… survive?”
What happened in our community on November 14th caused tremendous, irreversible pain. And, no matter how many times some version of this tragically familiar senseless horror plays out on a continuous loop across our country, it is NOT within the scope of experience anyone should ever conceivably think of as predictable, manageable, normal, tolerable.
It’s also practically inconceivable to consider what I would do if I were in the shoes of the parents of any of the children killed — any of the three children killed in this latest incomprehensible civil rupture.
Here in the Santa Clarita community we all have urgent questions. We are also alternately traumatized, grief-stricken, confused, and angry as hell.
As humans, it seems like it always feels better to identify the “cause” — to restore the illusion of sense and order by finding something – or someone – on which to affix the blame — to construct a reassuring linear, causal narrative that there was, after all a “reason “ for this terrible, terrible random unfairness.
In reality, none of us can really “know” what transpired in Nathaniel’s home that morning (or in the days, weeks or months preceding it). And yet, nearly all of us are quickly, seemingly irresistibly “pulled” towards the construction of that narrative,,, and judgment. Like a swimmer suddenly caught in a riptide — the questions suddenly, seemingly irresistably form themselves in our minds: “This young boy woke up with the intent to do the unimaginable — Why? What got him to that point? Was it bad or failed parenting?” [What even is that? I have yet to meet a perfect parent or perfect child.] “Was it mental illness? — could this have been prevented if someone was looking/listening/seeing/paying attention?” [If so, then I think collectively, as a community, perhaps we should consider the possibility that in a sense we all failed him — and consequently, maybe we, as a community, failed all of our children here].
…But just as certainly as that swimmer caught in the grip of the riptide, our survival – as morally-functional individuals – depends on keeping our wits and seeking a path across the powerful current that pulls us towards explanation/blame/judgement.
All I know is Mami (Nathaniel’s mom) dropped off her son that morning with the intent for him to go to school, and have an amazing day with his friends and his community (on what should have been a day of celebration – his 16th birthday), like all the other mothers dropping their kids off who wished for their children at that school that day.
Mami herself is now a victim of this tragedy as well, and we must find the courage to include her in our circle of grief and compassion — embrace, extend empathy and comfort, rather than blame, shame and ostracize her.
Universally, (virtually all) parents feel unconditional love for, and strive to express that love for our children, regardless of what happens in their lifetime. Geneticists and behavioral psychologists continue to debate the relative influence of “nature” and “nurture”. In the 60’s and ’70’s there was a tendency to stress the role of environmental factors (“nurture”) in predicting how a person’s personality is formed – hence the explosion of popular books on behavioral theories and parenting “instructional manuals”. In the past few decades, the pendulum of scientific opinion regarding personality development seems to have swung from childrearing to genes (“nature”) — which isn’t to say that one’s upbringing is irrelevant (though there is a hard-core minority that contends this).
Regardless of however significant or insignificant the contribution of parenting may ultimately turn out to be in predicting what sort of person a human grows into (not to mention how they will react under the gamut of life’s variable and unpredictable burden of circumstances [and the added pressure of our shared increasingly unnatural, extreme and unbearably stressful conditions]), it is obviously true that we are all imperfect, in varying degrees. But absent severe neglect or abuse, it seems unlikely that any variation in parenting could be rationally pressed into service as “the reason” a 16-year-old boy came to school on his birthday with a .45 caliber handgun, withdrew it from his backpack, aimed it at his classmates, and repeatedly pulled the trigger. Anyone who thinks they have a simple, easy answer for “why” that happened is doing a disservice to everyone in this community.
And here’s the thing: no one intends to raise a murderer [nor at this stage does there seem to have been any obvious indication over the years that Nathaniel was in any way a “developmentally abnormal” child]. Nathaniel was smart. He was a good student. He was a Boy Scout! He had friends. He had a girlfiriend. There were no “red flags” for anyone in the community. He had also suffered the unexpected and sudden loss of his father, a potential trigger which cannot be overlooked as a source of unpredictable behavior. But ultimately, none of this really matters…attempted “explanations” won’t bring back any of the three dead children (nor will they heal the wounds of the other children who were injured) and will do nothing to stop the cycle of pain, alienation, hopeless desperation, and random explosive violence in our society.
While what happened on November 14th was truly any parent’s worst nightmare it seems fundamentally wrong – in both senses of the word (both factually and morally) – to simply follow the knee-jerk urge to blame the parents/parenting. Resisting the pull towards judgement, and just putting myself in her shoes, my heart aches for Mami daily. Imagine being in her situation: losing her husband recently and trying to cope with that loss; leaving her a single mother with two children – just trying to live day to day and do the best she could – she also has a daughter. And then imagine facing this horrific experience while also being blamed and excoriated in the press.
Social media headlines like the one below “Remember the victims, not the shooter. Give him #NoNotoriety” not only attempt to wipe out the identity of shooter in an effort to deprive a shooter of any deranged quest for some form of twisted “glory” (which, as a theoretical strategy I can understand to a degree) — but in a case like this one, they also wipe out the family, their loss, and the impact of this tragedy on their lives.
It is a moral conflict. You don’t want to glorify the actions of a shooter seeking evil notoriety (because, as a hypothetical deterrent, you don’t want them to have achieved notoriety that other potential shooters might aspire to) but acknowledging the shooter and their family (also victims here) and trying to understand their humanity – and the humanity of their family – might actually positively impact this horrific trend we have in our country.
If a “good” boy — a boy from a stable home, a Boy Scout, a friend, a good student — can commit a crime like this, it belies the conventional explanatory narrative salves – and underscores the tragic urgent reality that this is a community problem, a societal problem – and a problem too profound and complex/multifactorial to be explained away by linear narratives or simplistic causal explanations like “bad upbringing”, “mental illness” — or even “the glorification and easy accessibility of firearms in this country” alone.
I bet Nathaniel’s mom questions herself all day, every day now — all the “what if”’s and all the feelings of guilt that are on her shoulders every day for the rest of her life. That pain sounds unbearable to me as a person, as a mother and as a member of her community. She also – I am sure – thinks daily about those other innocent children (Gracie and Dominic) who lost their lives – and the three other children who were injured as well, and she has to face the harsh judgement of their parents and the rest of the world. That’s terrifying! I imagine that she is probably in shock and disbelief that this is even her life.
She too, like those other parents who lost their children will never see her child graduate high school…she will never see him fall in love and get married…she will never spend another birthday or holiday with him.
She didn’t ask for this; she didn’t want this for anyone — especially her own child. How can we judge and condemn this human? She will live with her own guilt and her own judgment every single day for the rest of her life, and I think that’s more than enough punishment — if you imagine she “deserves” punishment.
As a community, please join me in showing her we are there for her and her daughter along with the families of the other children who were lost and injured in this terrible tragedy.**
Santa Clarita, let’s do better,
Let’s stop the toxic “US vs Them” mentality that’s causing hate all over the world.
I know some of you don’t agree with my stance, and that’s okay – but I choose acceptance. I choose forgiveness. And I choose LOVE — for all of our children and all of the families who are instant, permanent victims of this terrible traumatic tragedy in our community!
Written by Renee Kennedy
Edited & co-authored with help from Tamara & Leonard Rubin
**If you would like to do something more to help any of the families or the greater community in Santa Clarita that is still reeling from this loss, please e-mail Renee directly: Renee@earthbabyboutique.com. Renee owns Earth Baby Boutique and is accepting donations in person for Mami and Samantha at both locations. She has requested items like grocery store gift cards (vs. cash) – which will help alleviate the family’s burden during this time.