On Saturday afternoon, December 10, my daughter's best friend took a gun, shot two people in his house, then turned the gun on himself. In mere minutes, the life of Bart Heller was over.
But the pain he would leave behind was just beginning.
Suicide is a cruel thing for many reasons. It's, of course, the cruelest thing one can do to oneself, and I truly believe that no one can kill himself without being, at least momentarily and partially, out of his mind. The folklore from crime and cop shows is that fully half of suicides change their minds when it's already too late. They've stepped out of the window, they've swallowed too much poison, or the gun has gone off.
I find myself wondering if Bart regretted his decision when it was already too late. I don't like to dwell on that question too much, for obvious reasons.
But that's only one of the questions I have. One of the things that Bart left unanswered.
None of us will ever know exactly why this brilliant, volatile man took this step, ending two other lives with his. Some people are falling back on a "depression" explanation, but that's not entirely it, either. I've lived with depressed people. I know they can get suicidal. But there's a wide chasm between thinking about it and doing it, and Bart seems to have stepped across that chasm in a matter of moments. Just the day before, he had indicated to Jess that, while he was down, hurting, and angry, he was going to self-medicate a bit—take a "knockout cocktail" which would basically ensure he'd be unconscious for most of two days. He'd wake up Monday sick as a dog, but he'd wake up. And he'd go on.
Something changed in that plan somewhere between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, even though he clearly led Jess to believe that he was literally going "down for the count" late Friday. What happened to change that—or whether he deliberately deceived her out of a last effort to "spare" her anything or reveal what he truly had in mind—I'll never know.
And that's why suicide is so cruel. Because there are so many questions that will never be answered.
So many of us will wonder, for the rest of our lives, if we could have saved him. If one word from us, one more text message, one phone call to the Fort Wayne police a few moments sooner, or one check-in that morning might have made a difference. Perhaps those two people he killed would still be alive if we had done something…said something…made a different decision…
And that's cruel.
It is unspeakably, exquisitely cruel to put people who love you through that. Which is why many people, when confronted with a suicide, blast the person who left them behind for selfishness. Indeed, there is an element of selfishness in it. Bart, for better or worse, is through with the pain he endured on earth. The rest of us are left wondering how he was in so much pain that we either didn't see or couldn't help him deal with. But the fact is, whatever his final destination is for eternity, he has left this world's angst, confusion, and rejection behind. From the sound of it, he had a lot of that to deal with over his life. A lot of wounds. A lot of demons.
In the end, he couldn't lick them.
I've never known a killer before. I never thought in this lifetime I'd know one. But I welcomed into my home and my life a man who, as his final act, committed a double murder and then took his own life. Nothing that comes after this will nullify that fact. Nothing will excuse it. Nothing will assuage the pain of it except the balm of time…and forgiveness.
And that's also a cruel burden to leave behind on people who loved you. Not to mention people who loved the people you killed.
Perhaps I'm in denial, but I don't believe Bart killed these people out of a premeditated, cold anger. I believe he killed one of them because she was what he saw as his last hope for love…and she backed away…and the pain cut too deep for him. Certainly, he had invested too much emotional currency into that relationship. It was too new to have meant either life or death to him, as it ended up meaning.
I would have told him so. I sensed there was too much of his very self being placed into one young woman's hands. But I didn't. I was so tickled to see him happy—radiant, in fact—that I decided to let those thoughts be. I had no idea how fast things went south. Had I known, I would have reached out to him and said, "Talk. Just talk about it. I don't care what you say, but don't hold this inside. It'll kill you."
I didn't know. Maybe because I wasn't a great enough friend. My daughter was, but she felt he was coping. He'd get through it. He'd be in hell for a while, but he'd come out of it.
He didn't. And that's a cruel thing for both of us to live with.
As for the other man who died, I can't begin to guess what was going on in those last fatal moments; I didn't know him, and I cannot make a judgment on that. But I would almost bet my own life that Bart acted out of little more—and certainly nothing less—than a blinding, searing hurt that made him just want to lash out at the people he saw as contributing to that pain and end it, once and for all.
That's a cruel thing to go through in any life. Or in any death.
Where do I believe Bart is spending eternity? I prayed for him in life, and I continue to pray for him in death. There's an irony—a cruel irony—to praying that a killer goes to heaven in the end. Of course, I pray they all fall under mercy; I would pray that under any circumstances, even for total strangers.
But in Bart's particular case, I pray especially that Jesus was able to touch him in those final moments.
Because no one mourns a shooter.
Except those of us who knew him as more—much more—than that.
Requiescat in pace.