Monday, June 27, 2005


"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
Stop the NRA

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Blogger tiger3361 said...

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.

That is ignorance at it's finest... nice work.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Andrew V. said...

I wonder why the boys didn't call 911? Could it be that law enforcement in general cannot do it's job correctly? Last week I read of a child that called 911 because their mother was having a medical emergency. The dispatcher threatened the child because she thought it was a prank even though the child repeatedly said it was real. The mother died, and the police decided to show up 3 hours later to scold the boy...oops! I have had the pleasure of dealing with 911 myself. I was involved in a car accident with an unlicensed, drunk driver driving 3 other friends. Well as soon as they got out of their car, they began physically threatening me. I called the police and told them what was happening. They told me to drive to the police station if I felt scared and hung up! Guess what else? I was carrying a 9mm, which I have license for! You know what else, I didn't pull it out and shoot them! But the 4 of them did attack me all at once, some with weapons! I chose to fight back and in the process got some of their blood all over me and in my mouth...that was fun. Funny thing is, I probably would have been justified in shooting them, but I didn't. They were only hitting me with pipes, not knives or guns. Your beloved police would have no doubt shot them and probably gotten an award for it. I would have had to spend a fortune on lawyers. While I was getting attacked I could actually think that it probably wasn't worth the hassle of going to court. So people can carry guns and be responsible! I know it's hard for liberals to imagine people being responsible for themselves, seeing as it's the antithesis of everything they stand for. Have government take care of you, they do it so well, ask the people in New Orleans. The police eventually showed up about 20 minutes after this was over. I had the pleasure of none of them getting caught because the car they were driving was stolen. I also had the pleasure of taking a cocktail of anti-retroviral AIDS drugs, a real fun experience. Let's get to law enforcement's debacle in this case. Any person that checks themselves into a mental institution cannot legally own a firearm ever again. This is a federal law that has been in existence for a very long time. Law enforcement is notified in these situations, especially if someone has attempted suicide. The bottome line is once he went into the institution, he owned those guns illegally! So let's all trust law enforcement to protect us. Now, let's talk about the knife. Do you really think that if he shot her, he wasn't going to cut her throat? Let's be real here. Then your argument contradicts itself, by saying the boy did the right thing by shooting his father, but it would not have happened if there were no guns. You also mentioned the father easily overpowering the son. So if the father only had the knife, the kid could not have even made the attempt to save his mother. Furthermore, the fact that the kid did shoot his father probably saved his life and his brothers as well. You neglect to mention that at all. I think that if the father was going to shoot his wife, he almost certainly would have cut her throat and killed the kids too. Obviously this is a tragedy, but I think a worse tragedy was averted by the child shooting his father. The problem with people like you is that you think that people can be insulated from all things bad in the world. It is a noble ideal, and you no doubt have a good heart, but you have to be realistic. The police are far from the best option for your own safety, and violence cannot be eliminated...ever. Laws are already in place to prevent unsuitable people from owning guns legally, they just need to be enforced. You will never stop criminals from owning guns either. A lot more people die from smoking and car accidents than guns, and I do not see anyone rushing out to ban those things. People carelessly kill people in car accidents and barely even get in trouble for it. I think maybe we should start there.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will try to be brief as I could write for hours on this subject.

It is rather obvious (at least to me and many folks that I know) that any reasonable person willing to take responsibility for their own actions in life, will strongly disagree with the entire premise that owning a gun or firearm will or did somehow cause the tragic death(s) in this or any other situation. To even write this article and use this families horrifically sad saga to promote an anti-gun agenda further reinforces the opposition I and many others will feel toward this author’s viewpoint and lack of logic and accountability.

It is more than a little absurd to ever blame an inanimate object for the death, destruction and the possible mayhem that is actually propagated by the human in control of the events rather then the tool chosen to do one’s bidding. Knowing that the premise itself for this “thought process” was flawed the author tried to proactively dismiss the many arguments that are easily brought to mind when disputing this issue, like the fact that a knife, rock or hammer could have easily provided the same sad result, perhaps worse perhaps not, the fact remains that it was the human being that was in control and who made the choices and changing the tool would not change the person using it.

To insinuate that simply owning or possessing a gun could somehow change the facts and history surrounding this family and the people involved (namely Mr. Detwiler himself) is ludicrous, as history cannot simply be re-written. The reality is that Mr. Detwiler has now been shown to have had a clear and long history of mental illness and his childhood was plagued with violence, he was a time-bomb waiting to go off, gun ownership or access would not have changed this in any way, it never has and never will. By the way, guns also do not change judgment, morality or ethics as this is the responsibility of humans.

Certainly it is reasonable to question many things revolving around a case like this, particularly when a clear history of violence has been documented by law enforcement but no one should try to remove or minimize Mr. Detwilers personal responsibility over his own actions and choices, it is just sad that his family had to pay the ultimate price for his mental illness.

-Rich in Maryland

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First i would like to say that the mom had called 911 and was shot while she was on the phone.

Second i would like to say that guns dont kill people, people kill people. We have all heard this many times and its true. The only reason that people say guns are bad, guns are bad is because they are used in many murders. But they are definatly not the cause of the murder, if a person wants to murder someone they are going to find a way to do it with or without a gun.

If you take guns from everyone then you take them away from people that use them for recreation, like hunting, target shooting, and others and the ones who use them for protection, do you suspect someone to use a bow and arrow if someone breaks into their house and they are forced to defend themselves. the mear knowlage of a gun in a house is enough to detur a criminal from breaking in.

yes a gun was used in this tragic case, it was used to kill someone that should not of died like that, but a gun was also used to stop the murder and it was to late. but if the other person did not have a gun and kill the father then he could of went into the house and killed them two boys.

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Matt C said...

Why didnt they call 911 someone said. The mother was on the phone with them when she died. Ive had a man call and threaten to kill us then say he is coming over with a gun. He lives 10 minutes away. The cops are 20. We called them anyway. Two hours later they came, but the man was already gone after he had kicked our door down in a drunken rage and waved a 357 in our faces then left. The cops said "We had other things going on." There was a fire. Thats what firemen are for. They were not required there. We asked what they would have done had they gotten there to find us dead. They shrugged. I think they didnt want to have to risk there life for me and my family. This was hashed out once before in federal court. The police are not obligated to protect you.

Without the shotgun the boys would be dead as well, stabbed to death by a mentally ill father. The mother wouldnt even have had time to call 911. Guns saved those two boys. They will be scarred for life yes. But they will live that life. I now carry. Nothing since has happened since that incident when I was 16, and it wont happen again. I am now prepared to defend my life, or the lives of those I love. Besides, if you look up the information I believe I read in a statement by John Lott Jr, chicago law professor, that thousands of times a day people defend themselves successfully with firearms, just by dispalying them. No need to fire. My .02

Another thought. If he was in a mental health clinic, signed in by his own hand or not, isnt there a minimum stay? I mean how could someone troubled enough to put themselves into mental care be allowed to remove themselves from it?

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea but if u think about it if he killed his wife with a gun what makes u think he wouldnt have done it with a knife......and if he would hvae done this with a knife nobody woul be like ...lets get rid of all knifes.......yes maybe if the kids would have tried to communicate this would have not happen but getting rid of guns doesnt help crime as we have seen in uk and crime has gotten higher ever since they got the law of preaty much not being able to defende your self with a gun againts someone trien to harm u with one

yes its a really sad story but we cant really blame this occasion on anyone ....and for the kid it must be really really hard to cope with that really sad

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, this was my aunt and uncle and I find it horrible that you took the time to promote anti-guns through my aunt's loss. He wanted her dead and he would have found a way to kill her. Gun or no gun.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

I am deeply sorry for your family tragedy. I meant no disrespect, quite the opposite. I told the story as related in news reports, with sympathy for all family members.

I in no way meant to "promote" a cause at your family's expense. The story represented my belief that gun use is inherently dangerous. I expressed that belief with no malice, just sadness. And yes, some anger.

I totally agree that your uncle would have found a way to kill her ... he started with a knife but he then chose Corey's gun. As I said, what was truly tragic to me was Corey killing his father with a gun, one he'd been taught to use. I truly believe that a teenager not trained or having access to guns might have tried to find another way to stop his father without having to live the rest of his life knowing he killed him.

Corey, A.J, Brittany and all members of the family have my sincere sympathy for this heartbreaking tragedy.

10:39 PM  
Blogger daywalker1966 said...

I've raised three kids and had pistols, rifles and other guns in the house for years. Guns must be handled with one other key indgredient: responsibilty. Criminals are not responsible, they only want to take what they want by force. If someone is intent upon harming a victim, a victim with a knife or bat or whatever will only make them mad. Banning guns wont stop anyone from committing a crime. Besides, if we are to ban guns we need to go the whole distance and ban automibiles as well. Every weekend thousands of people get drunk and drive cars...often with guns in them, and hurt someone with the car. There are more offenses with drunks and cars than with guns.

Gun bans are a joke and solve nothing.

4:21 PM  

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