04/19/2013 05:33 pm ET Updated Jun 19, 2013

Why Would A Kid Do This?


Last night before bed, I heard about the shooting at MIT. In the aftermath of Monday's attack, the news was unnerving, but I didn't feel directly threatened. After all, we live out on the Belmont/Watertown line, a good 4 miles or so from MIT and what my friends jokingly refer to as "the suburbs." There was no indication, as of yet, that the shooting was related to the bombing and I'd already been burned many times this week by believing news that had yet to be properly vetted.

So, after tucking my 7-year-old son in, I went to sleep.

Not two hours later, I was woken by Gavin's father, Ted.

"Don't be alarmed," he said.

I was barely awake and not fully registering.

"For the sake of caution, I'm bringing Gavin in to sleep with you. His room is in the front and there are all those windows."

I sat up in bed and Ted looked at me incredulously: "Did you not hear the explosions, and the automatic gunfire, and the sirens? It's nearby, Watertown."

I quickly realized that "nearby" meant less than a mile from our house, right by the Target we shop at every week, on my regular running path. As I cuddled my sleepy son (who had not woke during the incident), I spent the rest of the night very much awake: devouring Twitter updates, listening to the police scanner, reading Reddit. It was the scariest night I can remember, but I was thankful to be able to talk with so many people via social media as I lay in bed. It was oddly soothing.

In the morning, Gavin woke up, confused to find himself in my room. "It's related to the bombing," I told him. "We can't go outside today. At all. OK? Do you understand?"

The severity of it all quickly registered on his face. "Is it all right if I go to the bathroom?" he asked.

Later that morning, we talked about what was going on. I told him the reason we couldn't go outside was because the people who they thought did the bombing were nearby. I wanted to impress upon the importance of heeding my request without scaring him. I tried to think of a landmark that he knew in the area.

"They're near the Target store."

His eyes widened and he asked if the Legos at the Target were going to be OK. I assured him they would be. Next, he asked if we knew who the suspect was. I told him we had a very good idea and there were many policemen out there searching for him.

"I want to help," Gavin said. "I think I know what might have happened, but it's actually probably an accident."

"Oh, yeah?"

"I bet it was the Myth Busters, Mommy," he said, citing one of his favorite shows. "They set off a lot of explosions."

"Maybe," I said, giving him a hug and sending him off to watch cartoons.

Later this afternoon, after nearly a full day of being sequestered at home, he approached with one final remark on the matter.

"Mommy," he said, "I accidentally turned on the news. I saw the guy." He paused for a minute before continuing. "Mommy, he looked like he was a teenager. That's a kid, isn't it? Why would a kid do this?"

Of all the questions I thought I was prepared to answer, this one left me speechless. But it did elucidate for me a terrible feeling that I'd been having ever since they ID'd the suspect (who happens to be 19). He's just a kid. He's someone's kid. As parents, we raise our children to be good people, we dream of the good they might do in the world. What had happened, I wondered, to turn a 19-year-old -- a child, by many definitions -- into someone who allegedly could commit such atrocities against other people's children?

"I don't know, baby," I said to Gavin, hugging him tighter this time, soaking up his innocence and youth. "I really don't know."

Erica Zidel is a Boston native who currently lives in Belmont. She's a 2004 graduate of Harvard and the founder of babysitting site,