A Remembrance and a Call for Responsibility

The blog post below was submitted by Dr. Rick Silver, Founder and Director of The THRIVE Center, located in Columbia:

None of us who live in Howard County want to recall that January day three years ago when Darion Marcus Aguilar pulled the trigger on his shotgun, killing two Mall employees - Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson - and then turned the gun on himself.

Aguilar was 19, Johnson, 25, and Benlolo, 21, with a 2 year old son.

None of us want to remember the moment of shock and horror when we first heard the news, the pain we felt as our thoughts turned to the families of the dead; or the sickening realization that - had the time or place been altered just ever so slightly - one of our own children could have been among those taken by violence.

And least of all, none of us want to return to that tragic day in our minds and wonder:  Could I have stopped this from happening? To even pose the question fills us instantly with an indignant anger: I wasn't there, I didn't purchase the gun, I didn't pull the trigger.

All of this is true.  And yet, in some very real sense, we were all there. 

We all raised these children - for even as young adults, they are still very much all our children and all of our responsibilities.

We all tolerated the gaps in treatment in our mental health system that kept Mr. Aguilar from quickly obtaining the care he desperately needed to quiet the angry voices in his head.

We all accepted that the gun laws were an adequate balance between second amendment rights and safeguarding the health of our communities.

And sadly, we all suffered from these deaths - certainly the three families of those who died suffered the most - but our quality of life, the depth of our trust and respect for one another, the sense that our communities can provide our children with the safety and caring needed for them to grow into healthy, confident people-all of this was compromised. All of us died a little bit that day.

But what lessons have we learned from this tragic event?  In three years, we have seen our country become a land divided, where open hatred and anger is now tolerated, where - no matter where we fall on the political divide - we feel less understood and less safe than we have in decades. Respect for those of different opinions has eroded.  Healthy, honest conversation leading to good solutions for difficult problems seems to have taken a back seat to accusations and false news.  Even in Howard County - a community that we take pride in viewing as tolerant of diversity - we have had multiple instances of open racism.  How can we possibly prevent these tragedies from occurring again if this is how we now relate to one another?

None of us want to remember, none of us want to take responsibility for what happened three years ago. (And pointing the finger at Mr. Aguilar - as accurate as it may be on some level -- is a knee-jerk response that oversimplifies a complex set of social problems.) But we must remember, and we must ask - everyone one of us, in every community across America:  What could I have done differently - what can I now do differently - to stop this carnage, to heal this nation?

We lost three promising lives that day, lives that - with the right care, the right support, the right love - could have blossomed into adulthood and added to the rich fabric of our community. We owe it to these three young people, to their families, to our children still alive, to remember what happened, to ask the hard questions and to do the right things.

"And what are the right things?", we may well ask. Aguilar was a young man with a mental illness who needed treatment and who purchased a gun legally in Maryland.  Johnson was in recovery from substance abuse. Benlolo was a single mother of a 2 year old. 

See how you can become active in the improvement of mental health and substance abuse care in Howard County and in Maryland.  Rather than having just an opinion about gun control, take some time to intelligently investigate the complexity of the issues, and volunteer to do political work that fits with your perceptions. Look into how you can support single mothers in Howard County with your money or your time.

And above all, listen. Hear the stories of your neighbors across the county, whatever their race or religion or economic level or education. Find ways to bridge the divides among us. Let us listen, let us remember, let us become involved so we can offer one another a greater sense of love and compassion. We must, if we are to stay alive.