I still remember the name and cause of death of every dead kid I ever covered as a reporter. It’s not a small list, either.
There was the 4-year-old AIDS victim, the 17-year-old drunk driver, the 12-year-old who was playing with a gun… The list goes on from there in a brutal recounting of wounds that never healed.
The only saving grace in any of these stories was that it always seemed like there was a communal moment of sadness for these families and their loss. In the wake of this crippling pain was a small halo of sympathy before people moved on.
Randall Terry got none of this as a series of tragic (and yes I mean that in the way Shakespeare wrote) events diminished his family and placed him in the public eye.
Damani Terry, the man’s 2-year-old son, was at a birthday party when he ran out into the street, the way a million other kids have done a million other times.
Every kid who ever did this has heard an adult scream, “You’re going to get hit by a car if you do that again!”
Damani never had a chance. A van, driven by Archie Brown Jr., ran the boy over.
As Brown stood over the boy, distraught and anguished, Damani’s uncle, Ricky Ricardo Chiles III, retrieved a gun and shot Brown dead. In the process, Chiles also shot his own 15-year-old nephew, Rasheed Chiles. On Thursday, as authorities closed in on him, Chiles shot and killed himself.
There was so much wrong with this that it would just turn a normal person inside out.
Damani was just a toddler who made one tiny mistake. Reports on Brown’s actions show that he was not driving recklessly and made no attempt to leave the scene. Had he perpetrated a hit-and-run, we would all admonish him, but he’d still be alive. Instead, by owning up to what happened, he died.
Ricky Chiles was already a one-time loser in the criminal justice system. He was a felon on extended supervision who wasn’t supposed to have access to a gun. Yet there he was on the street, displaying both a lack of impulse control and vengeful rage that would lead to a total of four deaths.
How do we make sense of this? How do we come to grips with this? How many ways can we ask why?
Don’t worry. That’s why we have the Internet:
In the days that followed, Terry said, their family became the subject of hatred and threats on social media. People they didn’t know cursed their son, blaming the 2-year-old for setting off the chain of events that traumatized the community by running into the street. Online commenters called for Tidwell’s arrest, saying she should be thrown in prison for not supervising her child closely enough.
In other words, “Fucking 2-year-old! Get your shit together!”
Lock ‘em up. Blame ‘em good. Nice call there, John Wayne. I’m sure there’s no problem out there that your caps lock and lack of grammar can’t solve. Because that’s what needs to happen here: Someone needs to be punished and blamed so we can all go back to eating Cheetos and watching “American Idol.” Once we solve this, we’re ready to be done with the “hard stuff” like four lives cut short for no good reason.
Every time I had to write about some of this “hard stuff,” I felt the ripples of these people’s anguish. I mourned in my head while I had to ask things like, “So you were told that she was legally intoxicated before she crashed the car?” One time, a woman told me that my story about her son had so injured the boy’s father that he wasn’t able to go to his son’s funeral. She told me she held me personally responsible for that. It’s been decades and that still won’t go away. That’s why it’s so hard for me to see this:
The couple ignored the hateful comments and had planned to join Brown’s family at a vigil Wednesday evening — the day one of Damani’s sisters turned 6. But a pastor phoned Terry and told them not to come, fearing for their safety in light of the online harassment.
I don’t know if this is an Internet thing, a dissociation thing or just that people are generally bigger and louder assholes these days. I also don’t know if these social-media warriors will ever have a moment that causes them to regret their simple-minded “There-I-Fixed-It” rantings. I do know that this family will never be the same and neither will anyone who reads about what happened this week.