There was a confrontation outside his home and his neighbor, whom he'd fought with several times before, stabbed him with a kitchen knife. He died on the sidewalk.
He was 20 years old.
This blog was about six months old at the time and you know what?
I didn't write about it.
I may have mentioned it later after his killer was sentenced, but I didn't feel like it was my story to tell. I didn't want his father or brother or friends to find my blog, read what I wrote, and go, "WHO ARE YOU TO TALK ABOUT OUR SON/BROTHER/FRIEND? WE KNEW HIM AND LOVED HIM BETTER THAN YOU DID."
Which is stupid. I knew that boy since he was probably eight or nine years old. He was my youngest brother's best friend. I used to pick them up when they needed rides and put their bikes in the trunk of my car. I was "Smelleen". When his Dad wanted pictures to show at his funeral, I dug out several...one of him in a boy scout uniform and another from his sixth grade graduation. One of him sitting on my couch in one of my first apartments among a group of us, sunburned in a tank top and shorts, smiling but not looking at the camera.
In my own way I loved that boy like a brother, and I realize now that I did him a disservice by not writing about him. His life deserves every bit of recognition possible...as short as it was, it was worth it. He was a great kid who would have grown up to be a great man.
For that, I'm sorry, Nathan. I failed you.
This past Sunday there was a mass shooting nearby and the shooter's been linked to white supremacist groups. In many ways I feel about it the way I felt about writing about Nathan. I wasn't directly involved. Who am I to add to the dialogue? I know nothing of what it feels like to be a minority, hated for my religion or the color of my skin. One of the victim's sons has been all over the news lately, eloquently saying much of what I feel. We have to stop hating one another.
Choppers circling over my friends' house, the evening of the shooting
But the truth of it is that my very good friends live about half a block down the street from that Sikh Temple. Sunday afternoon, my boys and I were due to be at their house for a pool party, to celebrate my friend's husband's birthday. She called me around 11:15 a.m.
"Dude. I'm just coming home from my Mom's and she called to tell me there's been a shooting down the street from my house. What the hell?!?"
I was stunned. She told me she'd keep me posted. At 11:40, she called again.
"Oh my God. I don't know what's going on here, but I can't get to my house. The entire street's closed off, and there are tanks and cops everywhere."
She called again at 12:50, finally home. "They got the guy. They thought there might have been another shooter, but there was only the one. He shot several people at that Temple down the street. The entire neighborhood is on lock down."
This? Was abso-freakin-lutely crazy. My best friend and her family...stuck in the middle of what sounded like a war zone, in suburban southeastern Wisconsin.
How do you even begin to react to something like this? It was surreal. I had driven past that Temple probably a hundred times without giving it another thought. I knew almost nothing of the Sikh religion, but knew enough to know they weren't a violent or extremist group. What kind of crazy person would have anything against them? What possible point could he have been trying to make? That no one was safe?
After a few more hours and many more reassurances from the news and my friends that the gunman was dead and things were relatively safe, my boys and I decided to go see our friends, regardless as to whether there was going to be any pool or party. I figured that since the cops had the entire street on lock down and were monitoring everyone who came in and out of their apartment complex, that may have been the safest place to be. We brought food and soda and juice boxes for the kids, as they had been told to stay indoors for several hours by that point. We basically sat around and watched the news coverage together, knowing that a lot of what was being reported was already outdated.
It seemed appropriate to be together and thankful that we were all unharmed.
Flags at half mast, downtown Milwaukee
I didn't shelter my kids from this. It was a horrible, senseless event, and something that's begun to happen much too regularly. I need them to know that bad things do happen, and sometimes to people who are very very good, but that shouldn't stop you from being good.
They got the kid's rated version of events of course, but what I want them to see is that in every dark story there is lots of light. For every bad guy, there are many good guys. There have been reports of heroes, and strength and hope out of this. But most of all, I want them to know about this in the hopes that it will never happen again. I want them, at some point, to possibly live in a time when things like this don't happen...that their kids won't need to find the bright points in a truly dark story.
At their young ages, they're just as dumbstruck by this as I am.
"Mommy, why did he do that?"
All I could say is, "I don't know, baby."
They already understand that whatever the problem is, violence is not the answer. It will become a very deep seeded belief in their little minds that no matter how different another person or group of people looks or seems to be, that their differences aren't reason to be afraid or to feel hate.
I don't personally know any Sikh people, or anyone who attends that Temple. But this event has touched my life, so I will tell my very small part of the story because it contains a very powerful message.
I'm just truly sorry that the people who worship at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin had to lose so much in order for me to be able to convey it.