Pondering Ronald Haskell's senseless act

Saturday , July 12, 2014 - 9:58 AM

Houston Suburban Shooting -7

Steve and Cyndi Ford, who were friends of the Haskell family gather for a candlelight vigil,...

There’s this great line in the song “Mystery,” sung by the folk rock duo Indigo Girls, that I’ve decided pretty much sums up my entire life philosophy.

“There must be a thousand things you would die for, I can hardly think of two.”

And that list gets even shorter when thinking about the things I would kill for.

Last week’s big news story was the horrific shooting of the Stay family — five children and their parents — in a Houston suburb. All but the oldest child, 15-year-old Cassidy, were killed; she was left for dead and later taken to the hospital in critical condition. Ronald Lee Haskell, who lived in Logan, has been charged with the murders.

On Thursday, I was one of the reporters assigned to chase the local angle to that story. It turned out to be one of my least favorite days in 29 years as a journalist.

Here’s the thing: The Standard-Examiner has an extremely competent group of justice reporters — colleagues who do an amazing job with all that law and order business, covering courts and cops and crimes and stuff like that. Me? I’m just a feature writer at heart. But most of our justice reporters were out of the office or otherwise engaged on Thursday morning, and so my editor tapped me. And while I did the job I was paid to do, that day I learned that not only do I not have the stomach for such stories, I’m not the least bit interested in developing that stomach, either.

My squeamishness has everything to do with the victims involved in this story. I have a particularly soft spot for children, and over the years stories of crimes committed against the youngest in society have had a profound emotional effect on me.

Back in 1985, just after I’d started my journalism career, I was in the newsroom when a national story broke about a small child who had been brutally murdered. My wife was pregnant with our first child at the time, and I was so disturbed by the news that I sneaked out of work early and went home.

I had a similar experience in 2010, upon hearing the details of the torture and murder of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy. I had a young grandson at the time, and such violence against a child seemed unfathomable.

And now, this.

Thursday was definitely not a good day. That evening, as I slid behind the wheel of my pickup truck to go home, I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes filled with tears for the loss of a mother and father, their 4- and 14-year-old sons, and their 7- and 9-year-old daughters. And for a 15-year-old girl whose entire family was senselessly taken from her in one terrible moment.

As I turned the ignition key, the radio blared to life. It was tuned to National Public Radio, and a story came on about the mounting death toll from Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. Turns out, while I’d spent the day writing about six people killed in Texas, NPR reporter Emily Harris was dealing with a story about 89 people killed in Palestine — many of them women and children — by Israeli airstrikes.

Harris interviewed the parent of a Gaza child injured in an airstrike. How would he explain to his son why he was hurt?

“I will tell him exactly what happened so at least he will understand what we are suffering as a people,” the father said. “He is just a child, but he must learn that we are fighting our enemies for our homeland. He has to know why this happened.”

He must learn. He has to know. Because children don’t just naturally come by things like fighting and enemies and bombing and shooting and the importance of a homeland. No, we have to go and teach them that junk.

The Indigo Girls were right. We’re all-too-willing — eager, even — to die for a thousand things. And to kill for at least that many. God. Country. Land. Oil. Payback. Jealousy. Rage. Hatred. Whatever.

All of which got me to thinking: What would I honestly be willing to die for? What would I be willing to kill for? The longer I ponder those two questions, the fewer answers come to mind.

In fact — for me, at least — it all comes down to one, far simpler, question.

What in this world could possibly be more important than a human life?

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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