Full transcript of Aaron Stark’s TEDx Talk: I Was Almost A School Shooter @ TEDxBoulder conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: I Was Almost A School Shooter by Aaron Stark @ TEDxBoulder
I was almost a school shooter.
In 1996, Denver, Colorado, I was a student in North High. In a moment of pain and anger, I almost committed a terrible atrocity.
Growing up I’d learned early on there was a strange comfort and calmness in darkness. I was always the new kid. My family was violent and aggressive, drug-addicted parents. We were moving from place to place, went to 30 or 40 different schools, always seemed to be going to a new school every other week.
You woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning by cops, to run across the country to end up at a school for a couple of weeks and then have to do it all again a couple of days later.
I was the perpetual new kid, and since I also had such an unstable household, I wasn’t helped by the fact that I smelled really bad, because I never had a shower, or didn’t really have any clean clothes. All my clothes were dirty and torn.
I liked comic books at a time when kids didn’t really like people who liked comic books that much. So every time I went to a new school I was in a new set of bullies.
They’d walk up to me and shoot me with a harpoon, like I was a whale, or dump food on my head, because they said I was too fat.
But the bullying wasn’t just at school. It happened at home a lot too. I was told that I was worthless by just about everybody in my life. When you’re told you’re worthless enough you will believe it, then you’re going to do everything to make everybody else agree with it too.
I wrapped that darkness around me like a blanket, used it as a shield. It kept the few who agreed with me close, but it kept everybody else away. I always had heard in life that there was good and bad people. I must be one of the bad people. So I guess I’d have to just do what I was supposed to do.
So I got really aggressive. At 12 or 13-years-old, I got really into heavy metal music, and I was the mosh pit when I went to concerts. The abuse just never seemed to stop.
I got into cutting around 14 or 15, because I figured that there was all this extreme emotion going on in my life. I had absolutely no control over. I had to find some way to find control over something so I took to cutting myself.
I still have the scars to this day. At 15, 16 years old, I ended up homeless. My parents had kicked me out because I didn’t want to deal with their drunken fighting, so I was living on the streets.
I thought I had pushed all my other friends away, shoved them all away by lying to them or stealing from them, doing everything that my family taught me how to react, which was the completely wrong way how to react. But I had no idea. I was just doing what I was taught.
Finally, at 16 years old, I’m sitting in my best friend’s shed, who I thought I’d already pushed away too by stealing from him and lying to him.
Lying in this shed with the roof wide open, with rain pouring down on me into a grungy chair that was covered in cobwebs and dirt which hadn’t been touched in months. And I’m sitting there with my arm covered in blood, knowing that if I didn’t do something I was going to kill myself soon.
So, I did the only thing I could think of to do: I grabbed a phonebook, and I called social services.
So I went to social services. Sadly, they didn’t just bring me in there, they also took my mom in there too, who happened to be one of the largest sources of my pain growing up.
Since she had spent her life running from place to place and dealing with social workers and police officers, she knew exactly what to say to get them to believe that I was making it all up, it was just an act, I was just doing it for attention.
Then they sent me home with her. And as they sent me home with her, she turned to me and she said: “Next time, you should do a better job and I’ll buy you the razor blades.”
My heart just got ripped out of me at that point. The darkness I’d been staring at for so long, I ran headlong into it. I had nothing left to live for. I literally had nothing to lose. And when you have nothing to lose you can do anything, and that is a terrifying thought.
I had decided that my act of doing something was I was going to express my extreme anger and rage by getting a gun. I was going to attack either my school or a mall food court. It really didn’t matter which one. It wasn’t about the people, it was about the largest amount of damage in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of security. Both those places were the right targets.
So I wish I had a better story about actually getting a gun, but that was actually brother-business-like. There were gangbanger kids near my school back in the mid ’90s when gangs were still a major problem in North Denver schools. This kid had seen me, he knew my family and he’d sold drugs to them before.
He knew that I wasn’t really in school, I was just always at school. He knew I wasn’t a narc or anything like that. I didn’t know anything but a first name. That didn’t take more than that. I knew they had access to guns, they talked about it all the time.
I said: “Hey, can you get me a gun?”
“Sure, get me an ounce.”
“All right, give me three days.”
That was it. I was waiting to get myself a gun so I could kill a lot of people. But thankfully I wasn’t alone in that darkness.
That best friend who had saved me when I was sleeping in the shed, he saw this place that I was in. Even though I had stolen from him and lied to him and taken his belongings and ruined it all, he didn’t care, he still brought me in and showed me acts of kindness.
Just simple acts. It wasn’t the kind of overbearing kindness where they say: “Is there anything I can do for you? Can I do something to make you better? How can I help you?”