Many in Dayton, and in the country, are trying to comprehend the incident, not least the parents of the siblings. Having lost two children, they are left with a brutal twist on a question faced by so many other parents in the era of mass shootings: How does one make sense of having a child who has killed several people?
The parents of the suspected Dayton shooter have not yet issued any public statements, but the reflections of others in similar situations illustrate the many confusing emotions a parent might experience after an incident like this. Andrew Solomon, the author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, has had intimate conversations with multiple parents of people who committed violent crimes. In those conversations, he told me, he was struck by how different parents’ reactions could be.
He first mentioned Sue Klebold, whose son Dylan and another teenager killed a dozen classmates and a teacher 20 years ago at Columbine High School. “When it first happened,” she told Solomon in an interview for his book, “I used to wish that I had never had children, that I had never married … But over time, I’ve come to feel that, for myself, I am glad I had kids and glad I had the kids I did, because the love for them—even at the price of this pain—has been the single greatest joy of my life.” (She was speaking of her own pain, she clarified, not the pain that others suffered because of her son.)
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