'They're not demons': Woman raises money to help grieving family of Oregon school shooter
As he is laid to rest today, few have any tears for Jared Padgett.
On June 10, Padgett exited the school bus with a guitar case and duffel bag and headed toward the boys' locker room at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon. Moments later, he unlocked a rifle from his guitar case and fatally shot 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman. After exchanging gunfire with police officers, the 15-year old killed himself.
The shooting at Oregon’s Reynolds High School was the fourth in an 18-day period west of the Colorado Rockies, prompting people all over the country to send condolences to Hoffman's family.
Yet Amy Evans, 23, decided to focus on supporting Padgett’s relatives. A day after the shooting, she started an online fundraising campaign to help raise money for Padgett’s funeral expenses. Evans has raised $5,723 with the help of 190 people in four days.
“This is a pretty horrific time for [his family],” Evans told TODAY.com. “I know it’s pretty easy to demonize them, but they’re not demons. They are real people and I think empathy is what we often lack in these kinds of tragedies.”
Inspired by a friend who started a similar fundraiser for Hoffman, Evans’ desire to help the Padgett family is personal. She graduated from Reynolds High in 2009, the same year as Jared’s older brother. Her “heart broke in every direction” she says, for both the victim’s family and the family of the perpetrator, whom she knows well. She wanted to find a way to help the Padgetts bury their son. The average cost of funeral was $7,045 in 2012, according to the latest pricing report from the National Funeral Directors Association.
“No one plans for their kid’s funeral,” said Evans.
Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra, an associate professor in counseling psychology at Boston College, says families of the perpetrator have a more complicated grieving process because they don’t feel they can exhibit their grief in a public way since they often lack a community of support.
“When the child is the perpetrator, I think it brings about feelings of confusion and shame and embarrassment, and I think a sense of isolation,” said Dr. Tummala-Narra.
Evans says the Padgett family has been grateful for the help.
“They have all been very appreciative and kind,” explained Evans, adding that they haven’t said much else. “They are grieving right now.”
“We are deeply sorrowful for the family of Emilio Hoffman and share their pain, heartache, and grief for the loss of their oldest son and brother of the family,” Padgett’s parents Michael and Kristina wrote in a statement. “Our family does not condone and has never promoted violence or hatred toward anyone…We are horrified and distraught by the actions perpetrated by our son.”
The family’s grief comes in the middle of some blaming them for Padgett’s access to guns in the family home. Oregon State Senate Pro Tempore Ginny Burdick told NBC News last week that the Padgett’s parents “are ultimately responsible.”
Families of perpetrators often assign responsibility to themselves. The family of Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who killed six people near the University of California Santa Barbara in May, released a statement to NBC News with the help of their spokesman Simon Astaire.
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“The feeling of knowing that it was our son’s actions that caused the tragedy can only be described as hell on earth,” said the Rodger family. "It is now our responsibility to do everything we can to help avoid this happening to any other family.”
On Evans’ fundraising page, people have posted comments blaming the Padgett family and expressing strong disagreement with raising money for their benefit. But Evans deletes each one of those as soon as they appear.
“I think people tend to discriminate and paint the perpetrator’s family with the same brush,” said psychologist Dr. Priscilla Dass-Brailsford of Georgetown University and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
“People have a hard time looking at the other side because we like to see things in black and white, dichotomously, and I think with a lot of these traumatic events there is always a gray.”
Some say that their sorrow for the family has compelled them to donate.
“I cannot imagine the pain and anguish this family must be going through right now. The judgment and feelings of hopelessness must be overwhelming for them,” Anna Meier commented on the fundraising page.
Evans’ fundraiser gives people the option to choose compassion over contempt for the Padgetts, and to help the family as they seek to come to terms with his actions.
“How many of these school shootings have happened and how many times have we reacted in anger, and how much good has it done?” asked Evans. “Maybe if we reacted in the opposite way it could actually make something better.”