Have you heard about James and Kimberly Snead?

The Sneads are ordinary folks, not rich by anybody’s standards. By their own description in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, they live from paycheck to paycheck and rent their home.

When an acquaintance of the Snead’s son was orphaned and had no other place to go, they invited the young man to live with them. They didn’t know him well. They only knew he was lost and alone. I’m guessing they thought they could help a 19 year old get back on his feet until he could find another place to move forward with his life. They knew the young man was immature and quirky, that he’d gotten into trouble at school, and was depressed about the sad changes in his life. I’m sure they thought that leaving him alone and hurting would only make his problems worse.

So they did what we’re all told we should do. They reached out.

The young man accepted their invitation and arrived with a collection of guns. They allowed him to keep them in their house. I’m guessing the Sneads probably lectured him about gun safety. We know they explained that he had to keep the guns in their gun safe, which they believed had only one key.

Perhaps the family felt the gun safe was enough protection for everyone. Maybe one or both of the Sneads are hunters themselves or NRA members and simply take any kind of gun ownership for granted, a basic right, even for a 19 year old. Sometimes good people can’t fathom other people committing an act they would never think of themselves. I’m making a guess based on people I know who keep and display guns as casually as my husband and I keep and display photographs of our children. It’s part of who they are.

The young man, orphaned at 19, is, of course Nikolas Cruz, who somehow removed one of those guns from the safe, an AR-15, arrived at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and murdered 17 people, injuring 17 more before the siege ended.

When someone like Nikolas Cruz, or more recently Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who killed ten at a school in Texas, take a leap into mass murder, the ripple effects of that act are felt for decades.

We start with the victims, who will never go on to bear and raise children, who will never have a chance to contribute meaningfully to science or the arts, who will never touch the lives of friends or family with their laughter or tears. They are gone forever now, and all their potential with them.

Then we have the injured, and the survivors, who will always be haunted by questions about why they lived when so many others did not, why they didn’t do this, or didn’t do that.

We can’t forget the families, who will miss those who died forever. And the families of the wounded, who will devote their next years to helping their loved ones recover and move forward.

We also have the friends of those killed and injured, who will think of them forever. At age eleven I lost a friend in a similarly terrible way, and she remains in my thoughts and heart all these years later. Her loss changed me in ways nobody would have considered at the time, and it will do the same to friends of the Parkland and Santa Fe victims–and many others.

We can’t forget all the other students nation and even worldwide, who with each death, each school shooting, feel less safe in their schools and act accordingly.

And finally, we have the friends of the shooter, in this case James and Kimberly Snead, who reached out to a suffering young man, and are now paying a heavy price. The Sneads have already been named in two lawsuits, and have no money to engage a lawyer. Some people are supportive, but others are not. They’re accused of being ludicrously naive and willfully blind, even though they say that Cruz was unfailingly polite and followed their rules to the letter. Accusers say they should have known Cruz was mentally ill, and posed a threat to others. Now they will probably lose the little they own because they tried to do a good deed.

I write this as someone who once worked in a mental health center and knows first-hand that even experienced professionals find actions difficult to predict. I write as the friend of a murdered girl, and as someone who once took a “lost teenager” into my own home, a casual acquaintance of my son who was no longer welcome in his and needed a place to finish high school.

My husband and I could have been the Sneads.

Luckily our high school “boarder” moved on with his life in his own way. We were a safe place for the months he needed one, and nothing more. I’m sure the Sneads expected that their outcome would be the same. Ludicrously naive? Willfully blind? Or two people trying to do the right thing.

As I read their story, the similarities were disquieting. Our student had no other place to go. The school wouldn’t help him. Other families had tried to help and failed. The county told me they didn’t really have foster care available for “children” over 16. We were on our own.

Cruz was older than our student. Cruz came with guns, which we never would have allowed. Unlike the Sneads we do not believe that Cruz should ever have been allowed to buy or own an AR-15. But the story is still much the same. Maybe you have a similar story? We reached out, without consequences. The Sneads will pay for their action for the rest of their lives. What’s fair and what isn’t? Who is to blame? What punishment should be administered? And to whom?

I don’t have answers. I only have coincidences in my own life, and a personal understanding of the pain one mentally ill person with a weapon can inflict on others for generations to come. And while I only rarely quote the Bible here, I also have sympathy for a couple with little money who may have tried to live these words from Matthew 25:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

9 Comments

  1. Joni on May 23, 2018 at 4:48 am

    So sad! I myself would have done the same thing as I’m always ready to lend a helping hand! I would have allowed the guns but would have questioned the AR15 as I just don’t feel they are necessary!
    Sad…..

  2. Caroline Klam on May 23, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Thank you for a thoughtful and deeply kind reflection. Peace, ck

  3. Patti on May 23, 2018 at 8:23 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I believe we would have more solutions if we were willing to try to take this approach rather than pointing fingers.

  4. Coelle Baskel on May 23, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you for sending this …..as ‘fate’ or ‘luck’ gets some of us through untouched. I, too, allowed a friend of my son to live with us the last year of high school and as I said was lucky enough that he, too, went on with life and remains friends to this day. It’s always easy to look back with the ‘you shoulda’ finger pointing when others are not so lucky.

    • Emilie Richards on May 25, 2018 at 4:23 pm

      I’m glad that your story turned out well, Coelle.

  5. Pat Kennedy on May 23, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    Dear Emilie,
    So many things we hear about seem either black or white good or bad. Most of us make snap judgements from news events. Your post is so open and honest, another thing that comes to my mind is, “There but for the Grace of God, go I”.
    I will keep my prayers going, to all. For us all. There but for the Grace of God…..

  6. Tracey Manning on May 24, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    “Hunters … NRA members … simply take any kind of gun ownership for granted”. Really? Since when?

    Cruz didn’t “leap into mass murder.” He posted on social media that he wanted to do the kind of violence for which he is now accused.

    The way Cruz “somehow” removed a gun from the gun safe is because he had a key to it.

    And why do you start and end with discussing the Snead’s personal financial situation? That’s their business not our’s.

    I’ve been a loyal reader of your books and blog and found them well-researched, well-written, and wonderful. This piece, however, makes me wonder if I’ve been “ludicrously naive”. Perhaps instead of Matthew you should have reminded us of the Jewish quotation: “Believe in God but tie up your camel.”

    • Emilie Richards on May 25, 2018 at 4:20 pm

      I knew that not everyone would agree with me, and I respect that. I must say, though, that the Sneads have told their story in several public interviews, including the Sun Sentinel article, and they were the ones to mention that they couldn’t afford to pay an attorney to fight lawsuits against them. So I was not invading their privacy. I was pointing out that what they viewed as an act of kindness will have serious financial (and emotional) repercussions for them, as well as the terrible repercussions for all the many others who were involved in any way with the Parkland shooting or any of the many other school shootings in our recent history.

  7. Terry Guerra on May 25, 2018 at 9:51 pm

    Emilie, I did not know this. So sad in so many ways. My heart hurts for that couple.

    Keeping all the families involved in my thoughts and prayers, and hoping these violent acts will disappear and no longer be a part of our lives.

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