On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 14, a 19-year-old man stepped out of an Uber outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At precisely 2:21pm, he opened fire inside a school building with an AR-15 semi automatic rifle, and in the six minutes of senseless violence that followed, 17 people lost their lives, and every single person in that school community was changed forever.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, which was one of the deadliest school massacres in US history, questions about gun control legislature have once again taken a front seat in the media, and the topic is incredibly divisive, to say the least. It’s easy to argue and speculate on ways to move forward when you’ve never been in a dangerous situation like the students at Stoneman Douglas were, but one Colorado man has offered his own story in an attempt to shine some light on how to make a difference.
“I was almost a school shooter.”
These are the words that Aaron Stark wrote in a letter to a Denver news station, just days after the Parkland shooting. Stark told the story of his high school years when, in 1996, after years of bullying and low self esteem, he planned to kill other students at his school before killing himself.
“It was not directed at the people,” said Stark in an interview with Denver 9News. “It was directed at myself.”
In his letter, Stark describes his childhood as “chaotic and violent,” and described himself as “the outcast” in high school. He said he was picked on for his weight, for being smart, for his often unwashed clothes and unkempt appearance, and for not playing sports.
“If you get told you’re worthless enough,” said Stark. “You will believe it.”
And when things were at their lowest, he got angry.
“My mental health was in sad shape, I was severely depressed and suicidal, I felt like I had nothing at all in life to look forward to and so I literally had nothing to lose. When someone has nothing to lose, they can do anything, and that thought should be terrifying,” he said.
He began to stockpile small weapons like “knives, sticks, shanks, brass knuckles,” and others. But Stark claims that he was never able to follow through on his plans to hurt himself and his fellow students because of one very important detail.
“I didn’t have access to an assault rifle,” wrote Stark in his letter. “I am not a school shooter because I didn’t have access to guns.”
The Effects of Friendship (and Blueberry Peach Pie)
Stark’s pattern of depression continued until one night, a friend invited him over to her house. He was suicidal, and planned on taking his own life that very night, but when he got to her house he found that she and a number of his other classmates had planned a get together for him, and made him a homemade blueberry peach pie.
“I was literally suicidal that night,” said Stark. “But that one act of kindness literally saved my life.”
Stark emphasized in an interview with NBC News that he did not become a killer because he had no access to guns, but he stopped wanting to be a killer because of true friendship.
“If I had rifle I would have been a killer but if I had love I wouldn’t have wanted a rifles,” he said in a tearful admission.
Aaron Stark is now the father of four children, happily married and enjoying his life to the fullest. He came forward with his story because his wife and daughter expressed that they couldn’t imagine what would make someone act as Nicholas Cruz did on Valentine’s Day in Florida, and Stark, unfortunately, understood some of those motivations all too well.
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” said Stark. “But people with guns kill lots of people.”
In sharing his story, Stark is advocating for gun control, but also for compassion. He beseeched viewers in his emotional interview to show more love to those who need it most.
“You still need to give love, even when it’s pushed away,” he said. “Love the people who deserve it the least… if we can just show some of our kids that they actually have the world already, then maybe they would enjoy it instead of looking at it like it’s painful.”
Watch Aaron Stark’s powerful interview on MSNBC here: