Thursday, September 27, 2012

two degrees of separation

So my colleague Lily (not her real name) told me that a student of ours, Seamus (not his real name), was looking glum this evening. When Lily asked Seamus about his long face and distracted behavior, Seamus told her that a friend of his had died with the rest of his family in the nearby town of Herndon. This sounded mighty strange to me. Did they all plunge off a cliff or something? Was there a gas leak in the house? How could they all die together? Lily told me that "foul play was suspected," so the first thing I did when I got into my car after work this evening was to Google "family dies in Herndon, Virginia." That led me to this article:

A family found dead in their Herndon, Va., home Tuesday is believed to have died in a murder-suicide, Fairfax County Police say.

Police said Albert Peterson, 57, killed his wife, Kathleen, 52, and their two sons, Christopher and Matthew, before turning the gun on himself.

Police were asked to check on the family about 10:30 a.m. after Kathleen failed to show up for work for the second consecutive day. Police entered the home in the 13300 block of Point Rider Lane just after noon Tuesday and found the bodies of the Peterson family.

All four died of gunshot wounds to the upper body, according to the Office of the Medical Examiner.

A candelight vigil will be held Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the family's church, Floris United Methodist in Herndon.

So I find myself in a pensive mood tonight, now that I know I'm two degrees of separation from a massacre. I have yet to talk with Seamus about any of this; Lily was quicker to notice that something was up with our student, and Seamus left the premises before I had a chance to say anything to him.

I imagine that such a ghoulish and tragic situation can provoke a host of questions in a teen kid's mind, What actually happened? foremost among them. At times like this, the imagination can run away with you, leading you through your own Hollywoodized version of what happened. And with all four family members dead, there's no one left to explain what really occurred, to offer any sort of rationale for why the father might have snapped and destroyed his precious family. So we, in our pain and confusion, can do little but speculate. The human imagination stubbornly continues to function in the face of the unimaginable.

I plan to offer myself as a person for Seamus to talk to, if he's willing. At a guess, he won't be. Like a lot of teen guys, he'd probably rather internalize this. But he shouldn't.


1 comment:

Bratfink said...

I read this story when it showed up on So sorry it hits so close to home to you.

Damned shame all around.