Trigger warning: violence
Oscar Pistorius, famed South African, paralympic runner, shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. Since then, his case has been reported by hundreds of journalists in dozens of countries and as many languages. I don’t even need to read an article to tell you the general events of that night (as they were presented to the court by the defense):
It was late at night. Mr. Pistorius thought he heard an intruder in his home. Without his prosthetics, he grabbed a gun and went to the bathroom door. He did all of this thinking that Reeva Steenkamp was still asleep in bed. The bathroom door was locked when he shot through it. He then realized that it was not an intruder in the bathroom, but Reeva Steenkamp who he had shot. With this realization, he returned to his room, donned his prosthetics and beat the door down with a baseball bat.
The prosecution added that neighbors had heard fighting. Text messages between the couple were shared that showed tension between the two at times and Reeva Steenkamp had indicated she was afraid of Mr. Pistorius.
I can tell you that entire story from memory because it has been all over the media for a year and a half and I consume a lot of media.
Mr. Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide.
Three weeks before Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp, another shooting occurred half a world away and the story crossed the eyes of maybe a few hundred people, most of them in passing.
Three weeks before Reeva Steenkamp died, Stephen deMoss was shot and killed.
On January 27, 2013, Stephen deMoss was sitting at his kitchen table with his son and a boy from the neighborhood. An SUV pulled up outside the house and Stephen deMoss walked outside with his son, armed with a bottle of water.
Mr. deMoss approached the vehicle and asked the driver to leave. He did not want any trouble. The driver pulled out a firearm and shot at Stephen deMoss. Mr. deMoss turned and tried to run. He pushed his child down into the garage for cover. The driver of the SUV pulled away and left behind a child screaming for help. His father had been hit by the flying bullets. An ambulance drove Stephen deMoss to the local hospital attempting to revive him. Those attempts failed, there is no way they could have succeeded, and Stephen deMoss died that day.
I don’t know this story because of the media. Unlike Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp, fifteen million results do not show up on Google when you search for “Stephen deMoss.”
I know this story because Stephen deMoss is my cousin. I spent almost every day with his family when I was a child. His mother, my aunt, was my babysitter. Her children, Shelley, Stephen and Becky, were as close as true siblings.
Stephen showed us how to build Lincoln Log houses, how to play Pick Up Sticks and marbles. He helped with science projects and reading. On one, specific occasion, he placed himself between me and a bully. He was my protector, my teacher, my friend and my brother.
As we grew, he headed into a troubled world. If I were being brutally honest, I would tell you that I never really pictured him growing old. His life was too fraught. He had seen and experienced too much, and it haunted him. Until just a few years ago I thought the call with the news of his death would come any day, in a way similar to how it actually happened.
Then he began to break out of his psychological prison. He cleaned up, took custody of his son and started healing relationships previously broken. When he looked at his son and saw a future, I could see a future for him. A future with more science projects, reading and encounters with bullies. This time, however, he wouldn’t be doing this with me. He would be doing it with his son, and he would do it well, knowing the consequences all too well.
Now that will never happen. We are all going on without him. The first birthday, the first Christmas, the first New Year and the anniversary of his death have all passed. Scar tissue has begun to take hold and we breath a little more easily, just as billions have done in time before us.
This week, a sentence was handed down to Oscar Pistorius for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp. Five years in prison with the possibility of house arrest after ten months. Facebook has told me this at least five times, NPR twice, BBC World, The New York Times and The Guardian once each if you don’t count opinion pages.
Also, this week, a sentence was handed down to Emilio Romero for the murder of Stephen deMoss. A maximum of 22 years served for a plea deal of second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and child abuse.
The media did not tell me this. My family told me this. Because on the other side of the world from a paparazzi-laden trial, another family grieves among themselves outside of the courtroom.