It has been exactly eleven years since one of the most haunting incidents of my young life. I meant to write about this last year after ten years had passed, but I didn't want to put a damper on my good mood at the time. I had just returned to Canada after three months overseas, and I was far too happy to dwell on the incident.
I was 13 years old, in the eighth grade, and struggling academically. I wasn't bothered by the poor grades; my popularity seemed to be inversely proportional to my academic performance. When I was the top student in the school, I was also desperately lonely and unhappy. When my grades took a plunge in my second year of high school, I found myself gravitating towards a new crowd of friends. Some of them shared many of the same interests I did; in particular, the classic videogame Doom - state-of-the-art at the time. And primarily for that one reason, I fit in. At 13, popularity was the most important thing, and if it meant discussing violent video games with unstable teenagers, then so be it.
I can't remember why, but I took the city bus home from school on April 3rd, 1995. And I can't remember why I was waiting for the bus somewhere in between my school and home, but there I was, across the street from the scene of a crime. There must have been at least 15 police cars lined up, and police tape sealing off most of the houses on that side of the street. This was highly unusual for this part of town; I lived in a very peaceful neighbourhood, and for many, police cars simply meant a free ride home.
I asked a few people waiting at the bus stop with me as to what was going on, but no one knew at the time.
I got home, somewhat confused but eager to think about something else. I went downstairs, turned on my computer, and started playing Doom. I was interrupted shortly afterwards, as a friend had called and told me the news.
"Did you hear about the murders?" my friend asked.
"On St. Charles? I saw a bunch of police cars just a little while ago."
"Yeah, it was ..." He mentioned the name of a friend, which I can't mention today by law. At first, I thought he was telling me that this friend was murdered, which would have been shocking enough. I was horrified to learn that the friend was, in fact, the murderer.
All the details came quickly. Three kids from my high school, between the ages of 13 and 15, had broken into the house of a retired priest and his wife. The victims were aged 75 and 70 years old, and were highly respected in the community. In fact, the priest was such a popular figure that he had a street named after him even before his death.
As the classmates, we were privy to lots of inside information. There were others at the house, who also got high on LSD and drunk on margueritas before the attack. We knew of others who were probably involved, but were never implicated in the investigation. We knew from before that the particular house was selected for robbery because one of the murderers never received tips from the owners as their newspaper delivery boy.
But the most gruesome details came when the autopsy revealed how the elderly couple was actually murdered. After the children broke into their house, they beat them to death with baseball bats and broken beer bottles. The former priest was believed to have been defending himself, given the tremendous bruising on his forearms. But he was an old man, and his wife an old woman. There was nothing they could do against the drug-induced rage of the children.
As all this unfolded, I recalled statements from some of my other friends, about the shady personalities I had begun associating with. One mentioned one of them intending to rob a house. Another alluded to the drug use. One of them clearly recalled the eldest of the three expressing a desire to kill someone.
This was all before Columbine, but I couldn't help but feel nervous because of the Doom association. At the time, video game violence wasn't in the media much; in fact, video games were still the domain of the socially awkward. The thoughts lingered on for years that, maybe, perhaps the influence of a video game pushed these kids over the edge.
In the aftermath of the murders, I realigned myself to my academically strong but socially unpopular roots. And to my joy, I found my place, simply by being myself. I didn't need to put on an act to fit in with a certain crowd, a crowd that could have taken me down a dreadful path had the murders not woken me up. For the most part, I put the incident past me, but some images still come back from time to time.
There is so much insanity in the world. I don't claim to understand any of it, but I do hold that there are lessons that must be learned from the chaos.