I started writing a post last night with the intent of resurrecting this blog with some deep thoughts about Christianity and our political climate. The post is written, but it is going to have to wait, as I need to process something, and this is how I do it.
This morning a suspect was arrested in the Denver area for the abduction and brutal murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. A few weeks ago Jessica left her house to walk to school like she did every morning, but she never made it there. A week-long search ensued, gripping the Denver area in fear and anxiety. 8 days after she disappeared, a body was found, mutilated and dismembered. It took more than 24 hours to identify the body, and early reports were that the body was so horribly disfigured that the investigators could not estimate the age or determine the gender of the victim. My rage was more than a little surprising, as I have no connection with the victim, and my only connection with Denver is that my son works there as a reporter. Were it not for him and his coverage of the case, I would very likely not even be aware of Jessica or her death. But I was angry, and even commented after she was found that there was a special place in Hell for people who perpetrated such evil. How could anyone do such horrific things to a sweet, innocent little girl?
Police comments didn’t give much hope for a quick resolution to the case, citing a complete lack of leads that indicated a well-planned crime by someone who knew what he was doing. I was therefore pretty excited to learn this morning that the police had made an arrest. I was prepared to hate the suspect, convinced that we would soon see the mug shot of some sleazy, deviant older guy, the very sight of whom would make the skin crawl of even hardened observers. I couldn’t watch the press conference at work, but was shocked to see my wife’s Facebook post. The suspect, Austin Sigg, was just 17 years old. How could a heart become so black in 17 short years so as to perpetrate such evil?
So far we know very little about Austin, but in the weeks to come many details will come forward. In just the first few hours we’ve learned that he was made fun of because he had a high-pitched voice and was “different” according to one kind-hearted high-school classmate who found this reason enough to make fun of him. He also supposedly enjoyed playing first-person shooter games, and took a forensics class at a local community college. Our natural response is going to be to hate him, to demonize him to the point that we can somehow rationalize his actions, because he wasn’t human, like we are.
I am in no way making excuses for Austin’s heinous crimes, or advocating for leniency in the execution of justice, but I can’t hate him. I grieve for him. Naturally I grieve for Jessica and her family, but I also grieve for Austin and his. While 17-year-old boys think they’re mature and the smartest individuals in the world, they’re still immature in their physiological and mental development. I’m not saying Austin isn’t responsible for his actions, and shouldn’t be held accountable for his crime. But I am saying that we share culpability. I’m not blaming his parents, or his teachers, or the video game producers, or you for the fact that he conceived of and committed murder. But our society has allowed evil to grow and fester, largely unchecked, to the point that the environment of Austin’s heart was ripe to conceive such an evil act, and then follow through on it.
I’m not calling for more laws, more anti-bullying classes, or more feel-good programs. None of those things will stem the growing tide of evil in our world. We failed, because we’ve largely stopped loving one another. We are withdrawing into our enclaves of homogeneity, where we only associate with, approve of, and show compassion for those select few who can pass our entrance exams. All others are locked outside, rejected as something lesser and unworthy of our consideration, let alone our love. We espouse tolerance, while at the same time demonstrating a judgmental attitude towards all who don’t measure up to our exacting standards.
I don’t know anything about Austin’s life, but I can only imagine that there had to be some serious pain and lack of felt love to allow evil to grow in his heart to the point that he could commit such a revolting, horrific act against a little girl. I’m not saying any one change in his life experiences could have prevented this crime. But just seven years ago, Austin was a 10-year-old boy. I have to wonder if he’d experienced more love and compassion from those around him, would his heart be different today? Would evil not have had fertile soil to take root? Would Jessica be at home right now, giving her mom hugs?
When will we have had enough, that we truly care enough about our neighbors that we will engage them with compassion, rather than ostracize them for their failure to measure up to our lofty expectations?
Evil is growing daily in our world. But love conquers all.
I can’t hate Austin. My heart aches for him.