In case you didn't already know this, the mass shooting that took my precious wife Shelia's life was captured in its entirety on security cameras that were located throughout her office building. There is also a complete audio recording of the shooting because it happened during a council meeting. They always used a tape recorder at these meetings to record the minutes. Yesterday, I met with the Modoc County DA to discuss the upcoming preliminary hearing. I wanted to know exactly what to expect that day. He told me that he intends to play the video and audio recordings for the court. Now, I always knew that at some point I'd have to come face to face with this video. It's been on my mind ever since the shooting and I have even thought about watching it. I decided however, that I don't want to see or hear this. Instead, I will leave the courtroom when they play the tapes.
I have no need to watch this video. I am all too familiar with the layout of Shelia's offices and how the meetings were run and who sat where. I've had conversations with friends in law enforcement who responded to the scene that day. It's not very hard for me to visualize exactly how the whole thing happened. It's a scenario that runs through my mind every single day and it probably will until the day I die. What's worse is that I am also constantly tortured by thoughts of what those last few moments of terror must have felt like for my Shelia. It causes me a great deal of suffering every single minute of every day.
If I were forced to put the feelings into words or come up with some analogy, all I could think to say is that it feels like a sword is plunged into your heart and despite all the pain and shock, you're still expected to get up every day and carry on like nothing happened. You still have to pay your bills, shop for groceries, clean your house and smile at the people who come up and express their condolences to you. All while experiencing this debilitating pain. You walk around feeling disconnected with the rest of the world. Your sense of time is all distorted and mashed together. What happened two months ago, feels like two days ago. What happened two days ago, feels like two months. The things you used to laugh at don't make you laugh anymore. The things you enjoyed doing no longer please you because all the enjoyment came from sharing those experiences. The things that people stress out over, now just seem so trivial. All while missing my Shelia more and more every day.
I'm well aware that these tapes are vital pieces of evidence for the prosecution but the fact that these tapes are out there is gut-wrenching to me. I still have to struggle to be able to say that it's a good thing that they exist. It's just so excruciating for me that people are going watch my Shelia being gunned down in cold blood. It just seems so disrespectful to her. This is the woman that I love. The woman I diligently tried to protect from slightest harm, day in and day out. I don't want other people to see her like this.
The preliminary hearing will actually be the third time I've had to sit in a courtroom with the woman who killed my Shelia. It takes me a few days to mentally prepare myself to have to look at this monster. Each time it's always the same flood of emotions -- hurt, anger, despair and grief. Shelia and I both knew this woman. We talked with her almost daily. She even came over to our house a few times. I just stare her down the entire time I'm in the courtroom. She refuses to look at me but I want her to see my face. I want her to know that she didn't succeed in killing Shelia. Shelia lives on through me and through all of the people whose lives and hearts she touched and inspired. I want her to know that I'll be there at every court date, reminding her that the mark Shelia left on this world can never be erased.
This hearing will be different though. I will have to listen to testimony from witnesses and hear her lawyers trying to defend her. I also know that over the long course of this trial, the pain and emotions are only going to intensify. That sword through my heart is going to be twisted and pushed in even deeper. I also know that I can't let myself dwell on this pain. I still have to keep going but how? NOTHING in life could ever prepare you to deal with this. It is uncharted territory in the realm of human emotions. The only thing that comes close to helping me deal with this grief is to honor Shelia by fighting back for her. Like so many others who have lost loved ones to gun violence, I too am drawn to activism. Whether it's speaking up for victim's rights or doing my part to put an end to these senseless shootings. I'm fighting to make sure that Shelia is acknowledged for the all good that she accomplished and for her work with tribal peoples. This was the work Shelia dedicated her life to. It was her passion to fight to improve the lives of California's indigenous people. Pushing forward and fighting for my Shelia is the only thing that helps me to forget about my pain.
There are times when I feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark, acting solely on pure instinct. That's when I just open up my heart and I can feel her with me, showing me the way just like always. She's there telling me that as long as I strive to do what's right, everything will be fine. My source of strength comes from my love for Shelia and my commitment to keep fighting for her. I keep a photograph of Shelia on the dresser in our bedroom. I look her in the eyes every day and ask myself if I've fought hard enough for her. I know that Shelia wouldn't want anybody to feel sorry for her and she certainly wouldn't want me feeling sorry for myself. What Shelia would want is for me to make sure this doesn't end up as some tragic story but instead, to fight hard and steer this back on to a positive course and to use this experience to help others. That's the kind of person Shelia was and that's what Shelia always did best.
I never picked this nor wanted it. It was thrust upon me by some cruel twist of fate. There is no turning back for me. It doesn't matter how badly I want this all not to be real. This is who I am now. This is my life. So, I will continue to fight for justice for Shelia and to make sure that she is remembered for the kind and loving woman she was and the amazing life she lead. I refuse to let her only be remembered for how she was killed. I'll fight to see that all victims are remembered for who they were and not by who killed them. I will fight so that no one else has to feel the agony that my life is now. This pain will never really go away. It just becomes a part of you. Fighting back is the only thing that helps me to be able to live with it.