Op-Ed

Too close to home — Orlando killer went to our high school

A message of the screen during a prayer vigil at the Joy Metropolitan Community Church.
A message of the screen during a prayer vigil at the Joy Metropolitan Community Church. AP

He went to MCHS.”

Deb texted me, and my heart, already broken, froze. We both attended Martin County High School, in Stuart. So did the Orlando shooter. (We have no intention of saying his name.)

At MCHS in the 1970s, we learned from black and white teachers, straight and (closeted) gay teachers (well, those were the times). Our joy was blemished only rarely by a tragedy, usually an auto accident. Above all, we never questioned our safety or our sense of belonging and community.

Sue went on to West Point, served in the Army and later became an activist in the work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She and her wife, Penny, were the first same-sex couple to marry in the Cadet Chapel at West Point. She continues to work in service of West Point and the Department of Defense.

Deb went to the University of Florida and spent more than 30 years in city management, including service in Littleton, Colorado, and Tucson, Arizona — two communities touched by mass shootings. She grieved with her community after the shooting of Gabby Giffords and friends less than five minutes from her home.

As gay and straight people who have devoted significant portions of our lives to public service, we have worked to build inclusive communities, fought for equality and rejoiced to see our country move forward in its understanding. We are proud of the small Florida town in which we grew up, the values we grew up with and the foundation from our outstanding Martin County schools, which taught us to put service above self.

And along with the rest of the country we have grieved the loss of life because of gun violence. We said our sincere and heartfelt prayers, comforted friends and watched the media analyze the life of the latest shooter.

It comforts all of us to think of the threat as foreign, as alien.

But he went to our high school.

We need to stop talking about a “lone wolf.” How many “lone wolves” make a pack? He was an American who, like too many other Americans, held grievances nourished by some media and by some politicians. He had weapons, including an assault weapon — not for hunting wildlife, not for defending himself, but to murder people.

And not just any people. LGBT people. Overwhelmingly people of color. People who were loved.

We went to MCHS, the same high school as the Orlando shooter. We graduated the year our country celebrated its 200th birthday. We were told over and over that we could do anything, be anything, change the world. And yet, again and again, we have been sleepwalking through the inaction that follows every one of these horrific and all-too-frequent mass-shootings.

But not after Orlando. This one was too close to home. Most Americans, including most gun owners, favor sensible gun reforms. But laws never pass because we don’t make them our voting criteria. Despite the organizations working diligently since Newtown, Tucson, San Bernardino, Columbine, Virginia Tech and too many others, we still don’t elect people who listen, compromise and solve problems. Is it, finally, time to change that?

What are we going to do to end this?

Brenda S. (Sue) Fulton is a former Army captain and member of the U.S. Military Academy Board of Visitors. She lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Deb Thalasitis works as a human resources consultant and lives in Tucson, Arizona. Both graduated from Martin County High School in 1976.

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