Got Guns? GET RID OF THEM!
"Gun violence is a public health crisis that harms not only the physical, but also the spiritual, social, and economic health of our families and communities." Million Mom March, What We Believe
Outside Philadelphia last week, a quiet Bucks County community was shaken by a Greek tragedy of epic proportions. Catastrophic events in one family became a gut-wrenching morality play for us all. But will its fundamental lesson be heeded? Doubtful. And that's an even greater tragedy.
The tale begins with a typical American family. Mom, Dad, 3 kids, 7 guns. And mental illness. Treated. Unloaded. Untreated. Loaded. The ending was predictable, unspeakable horror. And the story is as filled with ironies as it is with death.
Suzanne and Andrew Detwiler were married 21 years, loving parents of Brittany, A.J. and Corey. Brittany and her mother were best friends. Andrew spent time with the boys at sports, took them camping -- and hunting. But recently it became clear that something was very wrong with Dad. Unemployed, on disability and obsessing over his family's role in a trial accusing A.J.'s former wrestling coach of beating him and other team members.
On June 12, Andrew Detwiler committed himself to the mental wing of a local hospital after an apparent failed suicide attempt. That's when Suzanne asked a family friend to get his guns out of the house. A smart move. But somehow they ignored or overlooked the boys' guns. And the ammo in the garage. A fatal mistake. After only three days, Andrew left the hospital. Then, the day after the coach was acquitted, he went off the deep end. And took his wife and children with him.
Teenagers A.J. and Corey woke up last Saturday morning to hear their parents' voices raised in violent argument. According to police, they came out of their bedrooms to see their father holding a knife to their mother's throat. Both boys got their (unloaded) shotguns to try to scare their father away. Andrew easily overpowered his younger son Corey, grabbed his gun and went to the garage to load it. Suzanne grabbed a phone and ran for her life, calling 911. One-or both-of the boys loaded the other gun.
And the die was cast.
Andrew Detwiler shot his wife Suzanne as she fled the house. Then, as he raised his gun over her body, Corey Detwiler, age 15, shot his father to save her. When the police finally came, both boys were hysterical. And both parents were dead. June 18, the day before Father's Day.
If you're wondering, daughter Brittany was still away at college in Boston that day. Maybe celebrating with friends. Because it was her 20th birthday.
Corey won't be charged with a crime, as indeed he didn't commit one. But he is indelibly wounded, in his mind and in his heart. He will live out his life knowing he killed his father as his father was killing his mother. It's grotesque. Unfair. And it was totally preventable.
The events of that desperate day were set in motion the first time Andrew Detwiler brought guns into that house, and into their lives. Andrew might have cut his wife that horrible day -- or he might not. Had his sons intervened with shouts or fists or even a garden hose, their mother might have gotten away. We'll never know. Their father's actions were a cry for help, turned into a deadly bellow through the roar of a gun. This much is certain: Andrew Detwiler couldn't have shot his wife if he didn't own a gun. And Corey Detwiler could not have shot and killed his father if he didn't have a gun too.
And what about the boys' mindsets? When they saw their father threatening their mother, did they dial 911? Run for a neighbor? Grab a baseball bat? No, they followed a learned response -- they went for their guns. I'm not blaming them -- far from it, I have enormous sympathy for their plight. They are the real victims. Statistics now. Orphaned by gun violence.
Local news covered back to back funerals this weekend, first the mother's on Friday, then the father's Saturday. Brittany Detwiler spoke bravely and maturely for a girl so young, forced into adulthood too soon.
She spoke of her closeness with her mother, "There's a hole in my heart." And with devastating irony she lamented that her mother would never see her father walk her down the aisle as a bride.
Of her father she said, "We all love him," and read his favorite poem about walking with God. The boys, walking with their mother one last time, as pallbearers, were mute with grief and despair.
Pastor Bob Kratz said, "It was not God's will that that terrible scene at the Detwiler house should happen."
I agree. It wasn't God's will. It was people's willingness to have GUNS.
PA's Voice for Gun Violence Prevention
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