DOREEN DODGEN-MAGEE + THOMAS MAGEE
We write to you today to invite you into our reality; a reality completely free of easy answers or trite comebacks, a reality rife with complexity and abundant loss, and a reality that robbed us of our family.
The night before our incredible niece began Kindergarten, we hosted a back pack packing party for her. We stuffed Sarah’s new school bag with everything she’d need for her first day, including love notes and surprises. Just 18 hours later, upon arriving home from that first day of school, her life was ended and our lives were forever changed.
Desperately angry over missing his eldest daughter’s first day of school, our brother in law (from whom Thomas’ sister Laura was separated) purchased a gun, drove across state lines, and shot and killed Laura and Sarah, along with Sarah’s two younger sisters, Rachel (age 3), and April (age 5 months). He killed them all, at point blank range, in front of Laura and Thomas’ mother who was shot but survived and remained at the scene with our brother in law for 30 minutes before a neighbor and law enforcement arrived. You can imagine the kind of trauma that lived in her being for the remainder of her years.
While we knew that the marriage was not safe, since their deaths, we have learned that Laura feared her husband might kill her. We’ve found handwritten orders in her journals giving us custody if she were killed. We’ve discovered entries recounting times that she shared her fear of physical harm at Dave’s hand with pastors and counselors who, using “Biblical teachings,” encouraged her to stay in the marriage and home in order to try to “work things out,” stressing that divorce was not “part of God’s plan.” These important confidants in her life downplayed his potential impulsivity and stressed, instead, her wifely responsibilities.
People have told us that there were no laws that would have stopped this tragedy. People have said “It was the person pulling the trigger, not the gun, that was the problem.” We’ve had members of our own faith communities lobby aggressively against common sense gun laws that did nothing to threaten their right to own firearms. It’s painful to see communities that espouse Love and God as their primary calling claim greater allegiance to their Second Amendment rights than to the safety of women and children in their midst. Even when they have concrete reasons to be afraid of what might happen if their partner (or parent) were to garner a gun.
America, we understand that you love your guns and your rights. We also, however, have experienced, first hand, what it looks like when anger and impulsivity have easy access to lethal weapons. It looks like death and injury and ripple after ripple of trauma that lives on in those left in its wake.
Our own children, who were 3 months and 2 years old at the time they lost their Aunt and cousins, have grown up amidst these ripples of trauma. The very students who had been with Sarah in Kindergarten, just an hour before her death, have done the same. Some even witnessed the grisly scene. The small American town where the murders happened recalls this incident as the only time the national media ever cared about them. And we all recall how quickly our loss was forgotten by everyone other than us. Thoughts and prayers…thoughts and prayers. These are never enough.
In America, life too quickly moves on to the next story…whether tragic or tremendous…and the thoughts and prayers end and nothing ever changes.
It is estimated that nearly fifty-eight percent of Americans are, somehow, impacted by gun violence. Many of these are Christians. Even still we find that Christian communities, where we should rightfully expect people to value Jesus-like non violence, love for the least powerful, and mutual submission (within marriage and within relation to equitable governance), are some that most vehemently campaign for all manner of restrictions for others (in relation to their bodies, their money, and more) yet none for their own ability to amass weapons.
America, we are a country too quick to gravitate toward simplistic binaries. We are people who privilege our personal freedoms, sometimes disregarding the complexity involved in granting them safely. We look to our pastors, our Reddit boards, our carefully curated Twitter feeds, and other places that radicalize us and we lose sight of the truth that we can handle complexity…we can believe in God and hold space for divorce, we can own guns and do so according to precautions that prevent tragedy, we can be part of a community and maintain our own critical thinking skills, and a million other seemingly conflicting realities. We don’t have to live in the “us” and “thems” that lead us to blindly follow.
Dear America, we have so much to experience together. May we abide together with more empathy and grace. May we embrace complexity and critical thought. May we understand that our individual rights only make sense in the context of our communal good and safety because, if we truly are “one nation/family, under God,” then Laura, Sarah, Rachel, and April are your family too and you grieve with us.
doreen and Thomas