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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Before and After

My son, David was robbed at gun point in February of 2010. Our lives were forever changed.  Since the robbery David and I have had the priviledge to speak at Victim Impact Panels over the last year 4 times. It is always so humbling to speak to a group of people who are on probation along side other victims.  Each time is different, and each time is healing... the following is a bit of the story I tell... this particular version was written last spring...

   I distinctly remember waking up the morning of February 24, 2010 and thinking, “Today is the morning after…” And I was afraid of what changes had occurred the night before. Our lives are lived in moments of “before” and “after” events.  The thing is you don’t always recognize that you are in the "before” until you are experiencing the “after.”
            Some are good.  Like before we had children, our lives consisted of just my husband and I, in love and enjoying each other.  But after we had our first baby, our lives were turned upside down and have never been the same since. They continue to ground us and bring us joy, even though they are grown.  We can’t imagine not having children.
            Some are melancholy, sweet and sad all at once.  Before we found out that my grandfather had bone cancer we loved spending time with him. None of his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren would pass up an opportunity to spend time with him.  After we found out that he was terminally ill, our time with him became treasures; special memories made and stored in our hearts.
            And some after moments are just bad- like after the robbery.
The before the robbery were carefree days with school, friends and work. The before was trusting and believing in the good in people, that it outweighed the bad. David had just completed a very successful season in basketball where he led our team, Central Texas Christian School Lions, to one game away from being in the TAPPS State finals for the second year in a row.
David was planning a speech which he was going to give at chapel on Wednesday, Feb. 23rd, during a Junior Class led Chapel.  He had a lot of stuff on his heart that he wanted to share; most of it was regarding students who did not appreciate being able to attend CTCS.
            The night before the robbery, I had found out that CTCS had already called school off for Tuesday because of the predicted snow storm. I woke Dave up to tell him that he was not going to school the next day much to his delight.
            The day of the robbery, I put chili on to cook in the crock pot and headed to work for a little while.  Once it started snowing, we closed our shop and I headed home.  David was already playing in the snow with friends.  I grabbed my camera and left the house to take some fun pictures. I found David and all of his friends having a snowball fight at Lions Park on one of the baseball diamonds.  I took a lot of pictures of them and was so happy to just listen to their laughter and yelling.
            Later, a group of kids showed up at our house to eat the chili I had made earlier. They were laughing and just hanging out. I remember listening to them and thinking what a blessing it was to have them all at my house, and how sweet God was just to let us have a glimpse of their carefree happiness.  Dave is our youngest child, and time is quickly slipping by! I knew that night that I will soon look up and have an empty nest but a mansion of memories.  That night was a memory I was storing away to bring out at a later date to warm my heart. I was thankful.
            Soon, they all decided they were going to go to Stratford hill to “sled.” The mother in me felt like that was not a good idea.  But my fear was for broken bones or other sledding induced injuries.  They were meeting another friend there, and no one was driving. In the end, they all walked out of my house giggling with excitement.
            I began editing the photographs I had taken earlier that afternoon  Our phone rang at 10:00 or so, and the caller id revealed the Weber’s number.  My heart sank, and I just knew that someone had a broken arm, needed stitches or some other injury which was going to require a trip to the emergency room.  When I answered the phone, the fear in David’s voice revealed something much worse than a physical injury that could be taken care of in an emergency room.
            In five minutes, we had been thrown into the after, and our lives have changed forever. The fear and adrenaline in David’s voice sent me into a panic.  He had a hard time actually getting the words out, and at one point I heard Dr. Weber yell, “David! Tell her you are all okay. You are scaring her.” Once David was able to actually recount the event, he just kept saying to me, “They stuck the gun in Tyler ’s stomach and held it to Josh’s throat.  There was nothing I could do. I thought they were going to kill them, Mom, and there was nothing I could do.”
            David said that he was hoping when the car pulled up that the boys were just going to sled with them, but he had a feeling of impending danger as they exited the vehicle. He saw the gun as they pulled it out, cocked it and pointed in David’s face.  They took his cell phone and his money and moved from him to Josh and then to Tyler.
            According to David, Tyler and Josh, the robbers made derogatory remarks, called them names and told them on several occasions that they weren’t playing around. The robbers were laughing and having a good time, and all the while, they had just stolen way more from my son other than the iPhone and $16- they had stolen his innocence; and they took a spark out of his eyes that has been replaced by fear and anger.
            The four robbers got in a car and took off.  David was able to memorize the license plate on the car they were in and the boys took off up Stratford.  They knocked on the doors of several houses along the way because they were scared to death the robbers were going to come back, make good on their threats and shoot them. No one would come to the door.  And many of the houses had lights on and the boys could see people inside of them.  They finally gave up on any help from strangers and just ran the rest of the way to the Weber’s house. They called us and spent several hours in the police station.
            The next day was the polar opposite of the snow day.  Tyler and Josh spent the night at our house. David and I dug in trash all around the area.  He was adamant about finding his phone, as if finding that would actually give him back the peace that had been stolen.  The boys talked in hushed tones.  They joked about the whole incident, but it was a different type of joking.  It was laughter with sadness.  We had a string of friends come by the house, and I fed them all chili again. But this time our home was filled with nervous laughter and moments of silence.
            In the after, our family looks very different indeed.
            We used to never lock our doors. They are locked now.  I have never been prejudiced, but I am ashamed to say that now I have struggled with it for the first time in my life. I don’t know that I can explain it, because in my head I know that the color of their skin does not matter.
             Before the robbers were arrested, I would look at boys walking the streets and think, “I wonder if that is them.”  Once I was working out and there were a group of black kids in the gym and they were simply talking amongst themselves, but I had to leave because I could not get past the fear that they were talking about what my son and his friends had experienced at the hands of their friends.  It is awful to start to turn into someone you hate and have to claw your way out of the dark tunnel all because someone thought it would be a great game to go out with a gun and rob kids.
            I was so thankful the boys did not get shot.  But I was so angry. And I am still angry.  We have spent what seems like hours and hours and days at the police station and later at the Court House.  David insisted we let him go to the Bail Reduction hearings with us.  He wanted to see those boys.  We have sat in the courtroom with three of those boys, standing out like sore thumbs while their families sat behind us or beside us, each of us praying for opposite outcomes. My heart is broken, a condition I know I share with the families of the accused.
            David spoke in chapel after the robbery, but his speech was not the same one he had planned.  He talked about how he always thought he was pretty big, and strong, but that when someone pulls out a gun, cocks it and sticks it in your face, you realize you only have God.  He talked about how all of his friends had come from relationships he had made at church or at school and how he had relied on those relationships to get through the last week.
            David did not really care about school after that.  He became irritable and depressed.  He did not really sleep unless he was with Tyler and Josh.  We took the three of them to a counselor. She worked with them through some post traumatic stress syndrome exercises.  She talked to us about the fact that David is experiencing a lot of guilt because of the incident.
            David feels guilty because sledding was his idea and he pressed the boys to go.  He feels guilty because he talked Tyler ’s mom into letting him stay.  But most of all, he feels guilty because, for the first time in his life, he could not protect Tyler .  They have been best friends since they were born.
            He has also been angry.  His view of the world and the justice system has changed from trust to not understanding the rules anymore.  David, Tyler and Josh are all three very good boys.  They don’t drink or do drugs.  They are just good Godly young men.
            I did not want David to leave the house.  I wanted to be with him at all times. When he walked out the door, there was a part of me that wants to grab his leg and beg him not to go. To this day, I wake up in the middle of the night and go check on him.  The first few months I made him come home before dark.  The first few times he got home after dark, he called and had us go out to walk him in the house.  He would not take the trash out after dark. I would make him call me often.  My daughter came home from college one weekend and told me I had to stop.  I told her that I can’t, this is just the way it is right now. My worst fear for him is no longer being behind the wheel, it is being out of his car and exposed to the bad people.
            We began to receive mail addressed to the “Families of Victims of a Violent Crime.” I received a letter from the Bell County Crime Victims Coalition inviting us to the “7th Annual Tree of Angels Dedication” where we can bring an angel ornament to place on the tree in recognition of a crime victim. I don’t want to be a family of the victim of a violent crime; but then again, no one does.
            For a while, we had a job that required us to work a lot of nights.  I hated leaving David at home alone.  I eventually told my husband that I can’t help him anymore.  One night, David and I were at home alone and some girls called him and told him they had just driven by our house and saw 3 black men on our porch.  David took off upstairs to get a shot gun that I had forgotten we even have! (He would have had to beat them to death with it because we don’t have any shells) I went to open the door and he was screaming at me to wait.  As I opened the door, I saw a strange car in my driveway.  I closed the door and started to call 911 when all of a sudden David figured out that the car belonged to one of the girls who had called him and that it was all a prank.  Neither one of us laughed.  He called them and told them that we were furious and did not find that funny at all.
            Now we are living in the after of the sentencing of the four boys who pled guilty; in the after of being in the courtroom with all four of those boys and their family members, friends, coaches and pastors.
            The courtroom was packed as the Bell County deputies shifted seats around so they could escort us, two victims and 6 of their family members into the courtroom.  We had to squish into our seats, sharing seats and standing because the family and friends of the robbers had taken up the whole courtroom.
            We were told that the men accused of this crime would have a string of family members, coaches and teachers who would testify that they were really good kids, and that they had just had a sudden lapse in judgment.  And they did. The Temple athletic director testified about how wonderful one of the boys is and how he was always welcome at his home with his children.  When asked by the DA if he would feel the same way if it had been one of his boys that had been robbed, he had to admit, “Probably not.”  The mother of one of the boys testified that she knew this crime had been hard on the victims and their family members- but it had also been hard on her family and her son. He was depressed and it was not fair for this to ruin his life.  I felt myself screaming in my head!
            As we left the courtroom for a recess one of the robber’s grandmother asked me if she could apologize to my son. And she did, with tears in her eyes. It broke my heart.
            David and Tyler testified, and I was asked to testify regarding how this crime has affected David. But there was no one asked to testify about how good our boys are. The judge did not get the opportunity to hear from David’s coach, or his teachers, or his pastor, principal, administrator. She did not get to hear about how his character is Godly and honest and how he always strives to represent his school and his Savior.
To date, the Temple Daily Telegram has reported about this crime several times.  Each time they have briefly mentioned the victims and spent lengths detailing all of the accomplishments made by two of the criminals. These four men have stood before the judge and pled guilty to two charges of aggravated robbery, and yet they are still getting good press. What about the victims?  Who is reporting what great young men they are? Who is talking to their coaches, representatives from their schools? Does anyone want to know what would be said about the character of my son?
            I don’t understand how a person thinks who can just get a gun, get in a car and find it fun to rob others.  That is not just being bored, nor is it “we all got mixed up with the wrong crowd.” It is wrong.  And there should be some high consequence for that action. It seems like the attitude has been that it was not really that big of deal.  And that it was just a little game. It has been a big deal for us.  It has been life changing. Yes, it could have been much worse, and we are thankful that it wasn’t.  However, I don’t believe that it was not worse because the four men who have pled guilty were responsible and acted out of goodness.  I believe it was not worse only because God was protecting David, Tyler and Josh that evening.  I also believe that it was God’s protection over Derrick, A.J., Dewayne, and Marcus that kept them from doing more harm.
     Fear- it is a hard emotion to control once it has been woken up.  Unfortunately, it has been woken up in our lives- mine, my husband’s, my other two children’s, but mostly my 17 year old son’s.  Innocence can not be held onto forever, we all lose it at some point.  But the four young men who decided to play a game of robbery on February 23 violently stole the innocence of David, Josh and Tyler- three young men who were doing nothing more than playing in the snow.
            They have been sentenced- three of them to 10 years probation; one for a 10 year prison sentence.  They are supposed to make restitution. We have been asked if we were happy with the sentencing- I have to say, I trust in our Justice System and I trust in the judge’s decision- but happy? I don’t think I am happy about any of this. I pray that those three boys who received probation will take the opportunity presented to them and turn their lives around, I would be a hard hearted woman if I wanted to ruin their lives when they are so young.  I have forgiven them, but I have not forgotten.
            Yet in the after, I see God working in my son’s heart…he is amazing and has continually praised God that this happened to him and not someone else that did. not have the strong faith, strong family ties nor strong friendships to back him!
            He spoke in his Senior Chapel today.  He gave a convicting message about justifying our bad decisions, mistakes and sins… his message was powerful and raw and honestly, only one that he could give in the “after” of the robbery and sentencing. He explained how he “grew up” in the courtroom when person after person went to the stand and testified to the character of the boys who had robbed him, Josh and Tyler; how each character witness justified their actions… his voice shook, his hand shook and he had tears in his eyes when he told the entire CTCS Middle School and High School that when you are forced to listen to person after person justify how you had to watch someone stick a gun in your best friend’s stomach, neck and your face…you know that justifying your thoughts, your actions, your sins…breaks God’s heart…
            I was so angry before about this robbery… now, in the after… I can see God’s hand continually guiding us for His Glory!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You're such a great writer. I know that strong emotion drove you to it. Thanks for sharing.