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Break the silence, before violence


At Jared Michael Padgett’s memorial service, his family and church leaders spoke of him as a friendly, eager 15-year-old, active in his Mormon faith and interested in joining the military. This picture doesn’t match up with the events of June 10.


That was the day Jared Padgett killed a fellow classmate, 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman, injured a teacher, Todd Rispler, and took his own life. Jared has now become a nameless entity, “the Reynolds High School shooter,” who carried an AR-15 rifle and a handgun into the school he attended as a sophomore and opened fire during gym class.

Now, as we stand on the other side of this tragedy, it’s time to look back and ask some difficult questions. Gun control issues aside, we need to pinpoint the disconnection between happy kid and violent teenager. There have been 74 school shooting events in the United States since the one in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. We can’t allow these to become an inevitability, a sad fact of life.

But to address the violence, we have to be willing to talk about it.

In school, an unspoken understanding exists among students that feelings of anger and worthlessness are to be kept tucked away, especially if the feelings are violent. It’s not OK to say, “I feel like killing someone.” In fact, I’ll bet almost no one has ever heard a shooter express that emotion — until he or she expresses it with bullets. That is precisely where the problem lies.

It’s time to make it clear to all teenagers that being angry doesn’t make you a monster. It makes you a human. Sometimes humans need help, and accepting that help doesn’t mean you’re weak. This message may seem obvious, but it’s a message that either was missing or misunderstood in Jared Padgett’s life.

With a status quo of denying your emotions, high school acts as a pressure cooker for these violent outbursts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By opening our ears and minds to the people around us, we might reach a place where it is OK to say, “I feel like killing someone.” Because at that point it’s not too late to find help.

It won’t be easy. When it comes to the human brain, nothing is. However, I believe that education can overcome stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illness, teenage brain development, hormones and societal factors that combine to create these feelings of anger and hopelessness. It’s not their fault, and it’s not because they’re monsters.

And it’s not too late, up until the moment they pull the trigger.

We need to offer teenagers like Jared Padgett a different way out.

His journal was found after the shooting. In it, he had poured out all the pain and hate inside him, directing it at classmates. But this journal was no substitute for a human ear, and now it can only serve as an inanimate witness to Jared’s self-destruction.

What if that journal had been a kind teacher or counselor instead, someone who would have listened without judgment and found him help before he turned to weapons?

What if he had lived in a world where admitting to anger didn’t make him a monster?

Perhaps the tragedy of June 10 wouldn’t have happened at all.

Claire Baumgardner just completed her junior year at West Linn High School. She contributed a regular column to the Tidings over the course of the past year. This is her final column.