Sunday, May 10, 2009

From Good Kid to Gunman...What Happened to Stephen Morgan?

Just like many people across the country, I was shocked when I heard about the recent tragedy at Wesleyan University when a 21-year-old girl was shot at point blank range seven times by a 29-year-old man. What shocked me even more was that I knew the man, Stephen Morgan, and I know his family very well. I grew up in the same town of Marblehead and graduated in Steve's older sister's class at Marblehead High. We also belonged to the same beach club. Our families are friendly and we share many mutual acquaintances. I see Stephen's mother--even though I'm in my thirties, I still call her Mrs. Morgan-- at the local grocery story, the health club, walking on the beach. She always has a huge smile on her face and has a kind word for everyone she greets. The family is strong, loving and supportive. The Morgans are friends to all people in Marblehead, Swampscott and the surrounding towns--to people from all backgrounds and all religions.

So, it was with great shock that we all learned about the tragic events that took place on the Wesleyan campus this past week. Not only because it was a heartbreaking story--to discover that the life of a beautiful, intelligent and vivacious girl was tragically taken. But to learn that the shooter was the same little boy that I saw summer after summer, playing with my siblings, dressing up as a cowboy for the Fourth of July parade, having cookouts by the beach. What lead this boy, little Steve Morgan, to write hateful things about the Jewish community, to allegedly plan a "Colombine-type" shooting on a well-respected college campus and and to kill a beautiful girl on a bright, spring day in Connecticut?

It begs the question, how well do you know anyone? Would I have ever imagined that someone that I grew up with, a child who shared many of the same friends, acquaintances and childhood memories could commit such a crime? I never knew Steve on a personal level. He was just the little brother of a high school friend. He was Mrs. Morgan's son. One of the Morgan boys. I'm sure everyone has a kid from their past that they knew, that they remember, that they would trust if they ran into them again. Your parents' friends' kid. The younger brother of a high school chum. A nice boy who comes from a good, strong family who grew up a few streets over.

But then one day, you turn on the television and you see that the same little boy, the one that you watched chasing the ice cream truck with your little brother and sister, the one playing in the sandbox with his little sister, Diana, the one running around the pool in diapers, has been arrested for a heinous murder. And you can't understand what went wrong. How did he get from point A to point B?

Obviously, all of the facts haven't come out in this case, and the small town that I grew up in is anxiously awaiting the rest of the story. Did something happen when he went off to the Navy or when he moved to Colorado? These things will all be revealed eventually, and perhaps will explain how a good kid next door can turn into a gunman. But until then, we need to pray for the poor, defenseless Johanna Justin-Jinich whose life was cut short in a senseless crime. For her family who believed that she was safe at school in Connecticut--probably felt that she was safer there than when she was living in New York City a few summers ago. For the Jewish community that felt that they needed to protection during a nationwide manhunt.

But we also need to pray and have sympathy for the family of the shooter--the Morgans. A wonderful family--strong, supportive and well-liked-- a family who, for as long as I've known them, have never been filled with hatred or dislike for any person or groups of people, never raised their children to hate, never spoken a bad or hurtful thing about anyone. A family who did nothing wrong, but who must now pay for the devastating actions of their son.

As a suspense writer, I have to make up killers and madmen to put into my stories. I've been speaking to kids about bullying and about accepting others and not hurting each other--physically or mentally--especially in the formative school years. Was Steve Morgan harassed at school? I don't know. He was called a loner by his own family, but that doesn't automatically make someone a bad person. Perhaps he was shy. I only have memories of him as a cute, little boy--harmless, sweet, unassuming. Perhaps he had anger issues. Obviously he needed help.

Now, as I come up with new characters for my books, I need to understand (and I need to explain to my daughter) that the bad man isn't always the scary-looking man. He isn't always the "other." Often times they don't look or act that much different from you and me. And that's the scariest thing of all. You can't tell from looking at them. You can't even be sure about them if you know their family and friends. You just never know who the "bad guy" is:

He's the clean-cut medical student who goes onto Craigslist to find his victims all while planning his wedding to his college sweetheart. (Philip Markoff)

He's the father who guns down his wife and baby while they're asleep in the home that he can no longer afford. (Neil Entwistle)

She's the young mother who decides it's more important to party than it is to take care of her little girl, so she stuffs her in the trunk of a car with duct tape over her mouth. (Caylee Anthony)

He's the friendly and attractive college student who you meet on spring break on an island who invites you to take a walk on the beach. (Joran van der Sloot)

She's the mother of your daughter's playmate (a Sunday school teacher, no less). (Melissa Huckaby)

And now he's the boy you grew up a few streets away from, the kid brother of a high school friend, the one whose mom you see and who always has a big smile on her face and is just the nicest woman you'll ever meet. The boy who shot a girl at point blank range and seemed completely confused about the tragedy that he had caused--the lives he has forever, irrevocably changed.

Stephen Morgan, what happened?

If you can't trust the boy next door, who can you trust?


Well written Megan. These same exact thoughts have been plaguing me since I learned of the heinous crime last week.
It does beg the question, what *did* happen to Steve Morgan?