One of my regular weekend tennis partners is a guy that has a son that is a nationally ranked high school junior. Sometimes his son, Dylan, comes along and reminds us older guys what it’s like to be limber. And fast. And talented. We played on Sunday.
Dylan goes to Poway High School, which is one town over from where we live in San Diego County. If that school sounds familiar it might be because of a young girl, Chelsea King, that was from there was found murdered last month after disappearing while running in a community park not too far from here. Dylan said that everyone in the school was still really upset and that the atmosphere was “weird” – the students didn’t know how to have fun anymore and if they did, they kind of felt guilty about it.
The Sunday after Chelsea disappeared, a registered sex offender, John A. Gardner was arrested and charged with her murder. The Beloved and I were out and about that day and were thinking about places to go eat. One of the places we thought of going was the restaurant where Gardner was arrested.
I found this incredibly creepy. I mean, Gardner didn’t look sick and depraved – he looked sort of healthy and preppy. I thought of guys like that hiding out in some “Silence of the Lambs” secret basement, not being out and about. And I really don’t like to think that there are sex offenders sitting next to me while I’m having a burrito and margarita.
Then a week or so later, the remains of another teenage girl, Amber Dubois, were located in Escondido a year after she disappeared. Gardner is a person of interest in that case though hasn’t yet been charged. Part of me hopes it was him because I naively want to believe that there’s only one of these kind of guys in our community at any given time.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past month (you can imagine how it’s been in the local news) and I watched a movie this weekend that really stopped and made me think about the situation. I was channel surfing on Friday night when I came across the independent film “Hard Candy” which was about a teenage girl (Ellen Page) who tries to turn the tables on a sexual predator (played by the guy who was Night Owl in Watchman).
The story is one of vigilantism and revenge and pretty uncomfortable to watch at some times (which I believe was the point) – and it makes you ask yourself “What do you do with these guys?” Gardner had been convicted of sexual assault against a minor but was released after several years in prison even though psychological evaluation suggested he was unrepentant and stood a high chance of repeating his offenses. It’s pretty clear that if convicted Gardner will never see the light of day again, which I’m sure is poor comfort to the King and Dubois families.
This sparked a lot of conversations about whether prison is there to reform criminals or a tit-for-tat punishment for crimes. And so again, what do you do? Never let any of them out? Require more monitoring? (A lot of parents I know have called pretty vociferously for — lets say a surgical correction to the problem – but is that the answer, either?) And what offenses merit what punishments? And can we, as a society, find a better way to identify the people that ultimately end up like this?
When do the scales tip and someone becomes a monster? Too many questions, too few answers, I’m afraid.