There is debate and horror-fuelled outrage following the shooting at a Florida high school last Wednesday, which left 17 dead and several more injured. But there’s another, quieter question so many of us are asking: How could he do it?
Sitting down for dinner with the people we love; saving leftovers for lunch tomorrow; watching our family and friends across the table or the sporting field or over coffee on the weekends – we’re all wondering How.
None of us know how a 19-year-old former student could walk into his old school carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle with the intent to kill.
But one person does. And now, he’s telling his story.
“I was almost a school shooter,” Aaron Stark begins his open letter to the world, published by Denver’s 9 News.
“I didn’t carry out anything, I didn’t hurt anyone. But in 1996, I almost did the worst possible thing.”
Stark’s letter reveals a horrific adolescence. Yes, he was bullied – “for being fat, for being smart, for not playing sports” – but his trauma ran deeper than that.
“I had a very chaotic and violent childhood, moving from place to place, having the people I was closest to be the ones who hurt me most,” his letter reads.
“I was shy, and sensitive, and smelled bad because I either had dirty clothes on that had not been washed in weeks or because I was filthy from not having a shower also for weeks at a time.”
He began hiding weapons at the places he frequented. He always had a knife or stick or brass knuckles close. At the height of his depression, Stark wanted the whole world to explode. And he was ready to make it happen.
“If you get told you’re worthless enough, you will believe it,” he told the station’s show Next with Kyle Clark.
“I tried to find an assault rifle. I tried to get hold of a gun. There was going to be a large explosion of pain and suicide. I was going to try and kill a lot of people and then myself.”
Stark knows the issue of mass shootings in America has a lot to do with mental health and he knows through experience how much good can come from kindness and love. From “giving love even to people who don’t deserve it”.
He thinks those who believe violent movies and video games cause massacres are “morons”.
But Stark knows there is one, glaring, factor that prevented him from acting like the Florida shooter did last Wednesday. From walking into his school or local supermarket and opening fire:
“I didn’t have access to an assault rifle,” he wrote. “I was almost a school shooter. I am not a school shooter because I didn’t have access to guns.”
According to TIME, Stark couldn’t access a rifle at the time due to the assault weapons ban, which was in place from 1994 to 2004 when it expired.