"I was alone."
"I was afraid they would hurt my family."
"I feared for my life."
But then we find out the victim was unarmed, and everything turns upside down. We begin to question the shooter's fear. Is fear even a justifiable emotion, and is pulling a trigger justified, if the threat wasn't actually lethal?
Professionals gather in the police station and court room in an attempt to find justice.
"No one was here to help."
"I had no other choice."
And we-the-people gather on our tiny screens with fat thumbs, loudly calling out to Facebook, to Twitter, to everyone and no one, screaming at each other like it's the only way to figure out at what point fear might justify self-defense, might justify homicide.
Or can it ever?
It's been 16 years since Andrea Yates drowned her five children in her bathtub. I still start to cry, just reading the Wikipedia page.
Those precious souls, innocent children, trapped in circumstances not of their making, now dead, by the actions of their mother, and by the choices of everyone else around them. Andrea Yates killed her children by her own hand. But I believe God holds every person involved complicit:
Her husband kept pushing to have more kids, despite his wife's repeated suicide attempts and obvious unstable health. He believed the best cure for depression was a swift kick to the pants.
Her extended family knew they were going against psychiatrists' recommendations by insisting Andrea be alone with the children.
They worried she would become inexcusably dependent, a lazy mother, if they helped her any more, so they decided not to help.
She was released from in-patient psychiatric care before reaching stability, because her health insurance only covered 10 days, regardless of doctor's concerns.
They were abandoned to the mercy of a merciless situation, and she killed them.
My friend used to be a counselor in an abortion clinic.
She's pro-choice. I'm pro-life.
She walks the here-and-now with women who just read a positive pregnancy test, and it's a crisis.
I believe that positive pregnancy tests should always and everywhere be a reason to celebrate.
She's held women's hands who know the fear of being one rent check short of homeless.
I say we can resource for this mom from within our parish. Maybe someone has a room to rent?
She's heard it all: I'll lose my job, I can't afford daycare, no one can help me, if I don't work, my other children can't eat, I was raped, I don't have health insurance, I can't raise a special needs child, my husband is abusive, my parents will kick me out, I'm afraid my child would just be lost and abused in a broken foster care system.
I push that we're working to change all of that. We can network. Maybe a family can help with childcare. Maybe a local doctor will help with prenatal care. There are food pantries! We will petition the legislature for better support for special needs kids. I've heard families say that they'll personally adopt children who need a home, if the only other choice is abortion. I'll find them.
But all of my stammering is future tense and conditional. It's about stuff I want to see happen. It's about platforms I support that could enable moms in crisis to choose life for their children.
This is now, and she is scared, and even though the child within her is unarmed and innocent, she's afraid, she has no back-up, she feels she has no other choice, and she's ready to pull the trigger.
If only we could remove the fear from this situation, so she's no longer afraid of the baby she carries.
She needs job protections, affordable daycare, advocacy for sexual assault victims, healthcare, special needs support, affordable housing, a reformed foster care system...
This doesn't need to be a homicide of self-defense.
We can help remove the fear.