The kid you’ll never hear about

The gunfire started about the time we reached Field 4. Rat-tat-tats, small arms, over and over again. We were there for baseball practice. A sunny day in September. Mid-70s, blue sky, light breeze, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition that sounded close enough to smell.

“It sounds like war,” my four-year-old said.

“What is it, Dad?” asked the big one. He’s nine. It was his practice. His first year of kid-pitch ball. He’s a southpaw.

“It has to be a firing range somewhere,” I said, “because you’d hear sirens by now if it wasn’t.” Still, no matter how much I Googled, I couldn’t find the firing range on a map. I never heard sirens, and I’m still sure it’s a range of some sort–public or private. It didn’t matter, because we never heard sirens, and my mind was somewhere else. My mind was on a kid whose name you’ve heard more times than you can count, but a kid you will probably never hear about again.

***

A note came home from school last week from my son’s third grade teacher. I wish it had read that he was talking too much or horsing around in the lunch line. Instead, it read as follows.

“I want to let you know that a student who attended [this school] a few years ago was killed last night. I found out the news today during school. I taught this child and he, as with all my students, has a very special place in my heart. This is a very difficult loss for me and I wanted you to know about it because the children saw me upset. I removed myself from the room and had someone watch the children while I collected myself. I did not tell the children why I was upset or why I needed to leave the room briefly.”

My son sat at the kitchen counter that night as my wife and I told him what happened. He literally shook like he was cold. He asked if this was why we wouldn’t let him walk home from school. We explained he was safe. We explained that we were there to protect him. We explained he didn’t have to be scared.

We tell our kids all kinds of things. We tell them about elves, and fairies, and devils, and boogeymen, and ghosts, and rabbits. We tell them lots of things we know they will eventually grow to understand were just illusions of childhood.

Like telling them they don’t have to be scared.

***

The young man who was killed was 15 years old. I use the passive voice there, because we have no idea who killed him. But we know this much: he once went to my son’s elementary school. He shared middle schools with two of my best friends’ kids. I don’t know if he was a good or a bad kid. I just know his funeral was today. I know he was shot once. I know that my son’s teacher–a young woman–broke down when she heard the news.

In an hour or so, I”m going to leave to take my son to his first game of the fall season. The sky is blue. It’s 80 degrees. He’s finished up his homework. He’s #8 this season.

On the way to the game, I’ll stop at a T-intersection. When I take a right, I’ll be less than a mile from home plate. If I took a left, I’d be less than a mile from the yard where that young man was shot last week.

Tonight, I’ll be hoping my kid gets a base hit while a family less than two miles away looks at an empty bedroom.

***

I’ve been working since 7am, and I’ve had the news on in the background all day. Thirteen dead at a military facility in our nation’s capital. A business owner shot dead in a robbery across the street from a place I used to eat Mexican food. Two shot in a home invasion. Shots fired after a high school football game. Police officer terminated after illegally firing into a building. Police officer charged after shooting unarmed man who needed help after a car accident. That was all in the news today. And then this:

In Pauline, SC today a church reported finding its building shot up. The sign outside the church this morning read, “16 BULLET HOLES IN OUR BUILDING – 3 BULLETS FOUND IN THE SANCTUARY – PLZ AIM IN THE OTHER DIRECTION.”

Photo courtesy WSPA.com

Photo courtesy WSPA.com

I am not anti-gun. I may come off that way sometimes, but I’m not. I’ve probably shot more types of guns than your average suburban dad. Pistols. Shotguns. Rifles. Semi-automatic. Automatic. All of them. And you know what? I enjoyed it. I won’t lie. It was fun. I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti-people-getting-shot. I’m anti telling my kid he doesn’t have to be scared. I’m anti a school of thought that puts everybody into one camp or another while kids are getting mowed down.

So, yes, I’ve spent the past three or four days thinking about this boy I never met. Thinking about how he went to the same elementary school as my son. Thinking about how he went to the same middle schools as my friends’ kids. Thinking about how the soundtrack to my son’s baseball season is small arms fire. Thinking about how that kid was shot dead. In broad daylight on a late summer afternoon less than two miles from where we practice pop flies.

Oh, you know what that kid’s name was? You know the name well. You know it for almost the same damned reason.

That’s kid’s name was Trayvon.

And you’ll probably never hear about him again.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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3 Responses

  1. Steve Wood says:

    Well said Brad. Thanks for adding a unique perspective to a situation that has no easy answers. Days like today make it clear that putting off tough solutions isn’t working.

  2. NT says:

    Thanks for writing. Please keep doing it.

  3. Lee Jones says:

    I used to be a member of the NRA. I used to own guns – technically I think I still own a couple, but they’re on perma-loan to a cousin who lives in a farmhouse. And frankly, it’s okay if I never see them again.

    I’ve had it. The shootings at the Navy Yard are just a reminder that those kids at Sandy Hook died for nothing.

    I used to own guns and love to shoot them. But it’s not worth it. There has to be some sanity between the 2nd Amendment and the UK-like “nobody ever has guns anywhere”. Where we are now is not sane – I don’t know what it is but it’s not sane.

    And the soundtrack to baseball practice ought not to be small arms fire, with or without sirens.

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