My Son, The Killer

Michael A Martin
Associate Editor


The son I never knew.

I have wanted to write this… for a long while now. And although it has been years, to put something on paper, to entertain terror- up to now it has been an impossible task.

I will leave out many names and places for a variety of reasons- but in recounting this unfathomable nightmare and subsequent curse; you will probably know who I am. Perhaps this might serve as a warning, or maybe some misguided hope for just a tiny bit of redemption. But I think that I am way past redemption at this point; the shame, the guilt, the despair to be forever with me- always rising from the depths without warning.

And this is not meant to be a trip to the absurd- like some demon seed or that sociopathic ‘We Need to Talk to Kevin’ movie. I remember years ago when Stan and I would watch the news and hear some mother being interviewed, exclaiming, “My baby would never do something like that.” So silly, so assuming, funny even: My God! It’s not so funny anymore- for I am one of those mothers, in the most horrific way imaginable.

When Stan and I married years ago, he was on the cusp of receiving his Masters towards work as a computer analyst; I was just completing my bachelor’s in literature. I never knew or probably even understood the details of exactly what Stan did. I do know that he was on the cutting edge of an exploding industry; and living in San Mateo, even remotely close to Silicon Valley- well, it doesn’t take a genius to know that he was a rising star.

It was at this time that I had two children in quick succession: Todd, and two years later, Sara. I had quit my teaching job to raise our kids- of course with a part-time nanny. Stan continued to excel at his work, bring home big money, but started to work more hours as his responsibility increased. Still, life was good.

When Todd approached his eighth birthday, Stan was reassigned as a troubleshooter that required a tremendous amount of travel. It was at this point that we began to have marital problems; and to be honest, it was due to my increased insecurity regarding his long absences. It was also at this point that I began to notice that physically, Todd was developing slower than other boys his age; and whether this caused him to be quiet or withdrawn- I had no idea.

Two years after Stan’s dramatic increase in travel, we divorced. We could never reconcile career versus family- and I’m sure that the pressure I put on him drove us both over the edge. Now ten years old, this was when I began to realize that Todd’s level of ‘detachment’ was increasing. I know now that during this time, I neglected both Todd and Sarah- trying to readjust to single life after fourteen years of marriage. Still, the amount of alimony and child support was more than enough, much more.

A year or two after our divorce, I received a call from one of Todd’s teachers. She expressed concern about Todd’s quiet demeanor, lack of friends, and disinterest in schoolwork. Subsequently, at the school’s recommendation, I took him to a psychologist for testing- specifically for a possible diagnosis of dyslexia or hyper kinesis. We were shocked. Todd’s IQ was off the charts, the psychologist speculating that his withdrawal was nothing more than shyness and boredom- and Todd might need a man, a father figure in his life.

It was during this time that Todd began to spend even more hours in his room- mostly playing video games. No, frankly, that was all that he did. I occasionally tried to talk with him about his excessive time in his room, and to inquire as to what types of games he was playing. Never naming names, he simply said that they were combat and role-playing games.  Rarely going out other than school, Todd’s ten-speed had already begun showing rust sitting in the same spot in the garage.

I had encouraged my brother Will, Todd’s uncle, to take him ‘under his wing’ a bit on weekends, as Stan had pretty much disappeared from the scene. Will only lived half a mile from us so there was certainly convenience.
At one time, I often blamed Todd and Sarah’s dad for what was to happen… not anymore.

Will was an avid gun collector and accomplished marksman, and often took Todd to the range or hunting on the weekends. Will was also a very outspoken Libertarian and often rambled on and on about different doomsday scenarios.  There were occasions when I wondered if Will’s gun enthusiasm and ‘end of world’ banter might be negative for Todd, but I rationalized that interaction with a father-figure was important and that guns might be a boost to his self-esteem (It was about the only thing he seemed excited about). As for all the doomsday talk, I just felt that even at his young age, Todd would find such rambling interesting- and certainly not having a serious influence on his thinking.

Staying in his room, video games, poor eating habits, no friends, the weekends with Will- it all continued.

Whenever I attempted to spend time with Todd, or talk- it was akin to talking to a rock- totally withdrawn. One night I will never forget, because it was the only time I witnessed Todd’s anger- was when without thinking, I said something negative about his father. Todd had come down from game play to eat a late dinner sandwich. Angry, I made a bitter comment about Stan not accepting his role as a dad. Todd exploded, “Shut-up! I could kill you for that!” Then he violently grabbed the sandwich and returned to his room- shaking the entire house as he slammed his bedroom door.

Schoolwork? It certainly never took much time for Todd.
Staying in his room, video games, poor eating habits, no friends, the weekends with Will- it all continued.

Puberty? Yea, he got there. Birds and bees, acknowledgement of change? I tried to talk to him, but nothing came back… nothing was said, nothing. I encouraged Will to talk to Todd when he took him shooting, crazily thinking that engaged in such ‘manly’ endeavors, Todd might open up… he didn’t. The only noticeable change was an outburst of pimples, the emergence of fantasy (if not nightmarish) posters in his room, and loud, loud grunge type rock music- all being cloned to his endless gaming.

I have to stop here.
See, Todd was basically a good son. His grades were excellent and although quiet, he did participate in some chores: Putting out the garbage, getting the mail, things like that. He was also diligent about keeping his room spotless except for all the empty soda cans on his chest of drawers. And Todd didn’t do the Goth thing or dress in black. There was really very little for a mother to complain about. Now I see that there wasn’t anything to complain about because he was always ‘checked out,’ -removed from the world in the creation of his own. And school? No word. I know now that I should have met with teachers about his performance and behavior. I didn’t. I relied on grade reports and school announcements that he brought home. Stupid. I was a fool

There was a point during his early puberty when I thought our return to church would be a good idea. My thinking at the time was that if I could get Todd involved in a youth group, it might help him to finally engage in some sort of social interaction- if not enable him to develop his own relationship to God.  After about a month, he in no uncertain terms refused to go back. His excuse? He didn’t have one- just said it wasn’t ‘his thing.’  …And that was that.

Staying in his room, video games, poor eating habits, no friends, the weekends with Will- it all continued.

Later, after the incident, I found out that Todd had been bullied during his last year in middle school. A girl that lived up the street and took the same bus as Todd later told her mother that three bigger boys sometimes picked on him when they were dropped off. Her mother told me. At the time, I never heard about this from teachers, acquaintances, the bus driver… or Todd.


I wish I could tell someone, anyone, myself- of the hint, the tell, the spark, the cause, the reason… any of it. I don’t know; God I don’t know.

And this ignorance will haunt me, damn me, until my bitter end. Why did he do it? What happened that day that was different? Why couldn’t I see the problems? Why did he choose that place? Didn’t he show signs at school? Why did I let him go shooting with my brother? Why did Will leave so many guns out at home? Why didn’t I reach out to him more? What did I do that was so wrong? What could I have done? Why didn’t somebody help me? Why didn’t someone say something, anything, any damn thing at all? Why did I fail as a mother?

… Why did God do this to all those poor people? Why did God do this to Todd? Oh Jesus, why did God do this to me?
And forget me- I don’t deserve God’s help, not anymore- not for a long, long time.


On March 19th, seven years ago today, my son chained the backdoor to a ‘meeting’ filled with people, entered through a side door with two assault rifles, seven magazines, a loaded Glock, body armor, a San Francisco Giants ball cap, and two X’s painted on both cheeks-
and began killing.

In the end, Todd had massacred thirty-one people, including four toddlers. He then screamed something that none of the survivors understood, put the Glock in his mouth, and took his own life. No note, no explanation, no nothing.

That was seven years ago. That was yesterday.

I have wanted to write this… for a long while now. And although it has been years, to put something on paper, to entertain terror- up to know it has been an impossible task. I think that I am way past redemption at this point; the shame, the guilt, the despair to be forever with me- always rising from the depths without warning.

The son I never knew.
My son, the killer.


For subsequent publication in late January

11:26 AM PT: I have basically been slammed for this fictional diary (and I should have noted it as fiction)- from poor writing to ignorant assumptions- from blaming video games to homophobic aspects of the piece. I was also accused of being condescending- which if I was- it was probably a defensive response, which is still no excuse.None of that was my intent.

I do believe that predispositions coupled with varied social ingredients combine to define who we are- and i do not presume to know what those 'ingredients' are, even though i generated such a writing.

My normal published writings are political non-fiction- though our mag did recently publish the fictional story 'first responder'- still up on the site.

My intent was to generate a fictional story that brought such a tragedy down to the core level, to the painful intimacy of a parent. As a father of 5 grown sons and all the experiences accordingly (one being a gun freak with assault weapons), as a former ER worker with many gunshot victims, as a former gun-carrier in closing businesses, as almost being shot in an accident, as a person extremely familiar with mental diseases and psychotropic meds, and as a former resident in a country that had no firearms- i perhaps mistakenly feel that i might know just a little bit about this issue.
i apologize to anyone that was uncomfortable with the story, didn't like it, or didn't like my responses-
happy new year to all

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