Congratulations Dr. Phil, You Glorified A Murderer
It's possible you triggered a few PTSD cases, too.
At this point I'd like to mention that I'm not a fan of any daytime pseudo-reality show that delves into the lives of it's "guests" in order to heighten the sense of drama and create outstanding ratings. Watching an episode of Dr. Phil is on my want-to-do list right underneath "gnaw off limbs" and "give self colonoscopy," so yes, I do admit I come into this argument with a biased opinion. Usually, however, I will only go as far as to say "I don't like Dr. Phil" or simply, "ew" and move on. To me he's sort of a benign entity in daytime television; like a non-cancerous mole he has absolutely no effect on my day to day life. There are plenty more important things to complain about, after all. That is, until today.
Credit Image: © Pete Marovich/ZUMApress.com
In today's episode (airing at 3 pm in most US time zones) Dr. Phil is hosting a show entitled "Scared of My Son." The synopsis, taken off his website, goes as follows:
"Each year, approximately 20 mass shootings happen in the United States. How does this happen? Would you know if you were raising a killer? In a very rare and emotional interview, hear from Jeff, whose son, Andy, became a school shooter. Then, go inside the mind of the shooter, when Dr. Phil speaks with Andy from prison..."
I attended the same school as Andy. I was there that day. The last thing I want to hear is his personal opinion of the day that he murdered two and wounded thirteen.
I realize I'm misdirecting some of my unhealed anger at the host of the show, and I have no doubt that someone will call me out on that in the comments. However, after watching it myself I can honestly say Andy added absolutely nothing to the discussion at hand. It was part interview in "what/why" format and part questioning about the warning signs, which was supposed to be the actual topic of the show. According to Andy, the warning sign his father should have seen was that he kept ditching school. As a teen, when I ditched school I did a myriad of things, including but not limited to fast food consumption, playing video games, hanging out at a park, sleeping, joyriding and visiting museums. None involved plotting mass murder. My point is, the viewpoint Andy provided during his interview was not only counterproductive, it was also lacking any real substance. I'm assuming the producers and host do take the time to prepare and rehearse for their shows; in which case they would have undoubtedly known how little this convicted felon would actually add to the discussion. This makes me think, now more than ever, that this whole thing was just a ploy for ratings. Well, like my title says, congratulations Dr Phil on enticing my demographic for a single episode - it's too bad it's going to be nothing but negative attention.
Charles "Andy" Williams, born February 8th, 1986 is not a benign entity. He's a convicted murderer, a child-killer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for fifty years. He's the adult version of the teenage boy that came to Santana High School on March 5th, 2001 and callously, uncaringly took the lives of two of his classmates. He wounded thireen people. He was taken down by an off-duty police officer only minutes after it started. The officer had been on campus registering his daughter for classes - if he hadn't been there completely by chance that day, who knows what would have happened. Who knows how many more kids would have died. It was two weeks before my sixteenth birthday and I learned that there is a coldness in some people, a calculating cruelty that enables them to step into a bathroom, shoot someone in the head and then continue firing out the door. He reloaded four times. He kept shooting until there was no one left to shoot. The school was closed the following day so they could mop up the blood.
He came to my school that day with his father's handgun in his backpack and zero concern for his fellow mankind. He took the lives of two innocent boys and destroyed the rest of us emotionally. The entire community was devastated, and our suburban town became the center of political debates for months. We were harassed by reporters, religious zealots and any and every kind of crazy that stepped out of the woodwork to parade their personal agendas in front of the hordes of cameras. We received letters, teddy bears, New Testaments, t-shirts, signatures from professional athletes; the governor's wife stopped by for a visit. We would have to push through crowds of reporters, slip between tripods and hold our heads up to the jeering jabs about how this was a punishment from God for our misbehavior. We came together and gradually healed as a group, but our fragile sense of stability was crushed. The innocence and optimism we brought to school with us that Monday morning was gone for good, and that's something none of us are ever going to get back.
The actual show that aired today is not completely about Andy, and his segment ended twenty minutes into the broadcast. It's about violent teenagers and addresses parents directly about the warning signs. I fully support the idea behind this episode and believe that yes, there are usually a great number of warning signs that go ignored. The actual show isn't the problem, it's the producers' decision to feature Andy himself on the program. This boy who is now a man has grown a few inches taller and has since gotten the ability to grow facial hair. I doubt much else has changed, and I don't really care if it has. A murderer is a murderer, and anyone who reloads four times and directs his weapon at a group of panicking, scattering teens is not someone who should be allowed to address the general public.
A fifty year prison sentence should actually mean what it says: ostracism. It's a punishment; the purpose is to take the offending individual and place them in a position outside of functioning society, where they have no control and no influence. By letting murderers draw the attention they crave, by handing them a large audience on a silver platter, you're doing absolutely nothing but encouraging this sort of behavior. So, then, why is he getting airtime again? Why is he going to be able to plead his case to the sympathetic daytime viewers who are going to be looking at a picture of a murderer and imaging their own grandchildren?
If you plan to watch this program today, I'd like to you see some images other than this young man's face. All of these images belong to me, but there are many more powerful ones of mourning students that you can still access eleven years later with a quick trip to your favorite search engine.
a picture of the original memorial taken from the school newspaper. March 2001.
Ten year anniversary. March 5, 2011.
The two students killed, taken from the school paper. March, 2001.
Randy was a seventeen year old honor student about to graduate. Bryan was a fourteen year old freshman with a lot of potential.