“When you literally have nothing to lose you can do anything and that thought is absolutely terrifying.”


When you feel like you have nothing to lose, the boundaries of what you allow yourself to be drawn into cease to exist, and you can become consumed by total darkness. After years of neglect by my family and being dismissed by social workers, I was pushed past my limit. There was nothing I cared about in this world, and therefore nothing that could hurt me anymore.

My philosophy was, “You know what? I’ve been screaming and screaming, and nobody’s been hearing me. Well, they’re going to fucking hear me now.” I decided that I was going to attack either my school or the local mall food court. My plan was to walk in and take out as many people as possible. I would finally make my pain heard, knowing that it would probably also cost me my life. As I got deeper and deeper into the planning of this event, I reached the place that you hear about, where people give away all of their belongings. I started saying goodbye to everyone that I knew. I felt like telling everyone my thoughts on life and revealing a bunch of secrets that I was holding onto. I wanted to open up about everything before going. I had nothing to lose.


I was born in Salem, Oregon, in 1979. I grew up bouncing back and forth between Oregon and Colorado with my older brother. For a long time, it was just two of us and my mom. My birth father was extremely violent, and my earliest memories are of him abusing my mom, both physically and sexually. There was a lot of emotional manipulation between the two of them, as well as every other kind of abuse that you can imagine. We ran from state to state to get away from him for the first four or five years of my life. We were evicted probably ten to twenty times from various places during this time. We learned how to survive by moving almost constantly. Eventually, my dad stopped trying to find us, and that was just a huge relief. After my dad was out of the picture, my mother met my stepdad.

He ended up being a different kind of nightmare. Instead of having massive violence and horror at home, it shifted to tons of drug use and criminal activity. The movie had switched from Stephen King to Scarface. My brother and I were really close during this time. He basically raised me. In my mother’s eyes, he was the golden boy who took care of everything, and I was the crap she had to put up with. I was always getting picked on by my family. I was constantly told I was worthless and that nothing I would ever do would matter. Our house quickly turned into the party house, because my mom and stepdad were big drug dealers in the area, so everyone would come over, and I would usually end up in the corner crying, or worse, getting beat up.

In reaction to the constant abuse I was suffering at home, I started to embrace aggression. I was trying to be as aggressively imposing as possible to keep everyone away from me, because when people got close they tended to hurt me really badly. I didn’t have many friends, other than my buddy Mike. I met Mike when I was around twelve, and he turned out to be a lifelong safe place for me. No matter how bad it got at home, I could go to his place and just relax, watch a movie, eat a meal, and just be “normal” for a bit. But, back at home, things deteriorated further; because of the anger and violence in that environment, my mom basically lost all ability to parent. Her berating got worse, and I started to feel out of control. I started cutting myself just to feel like I had control over something. It gave me a really weird comfort.

My mom actually caught me doing it one day, and her reaction was, “What are you doing? You’re just doing this for attention.” I felt like I was screaming out for someone to just give a shit. But nobody cared, not even my mom. I was technically living with my family, but I was bouncing around a lot to avoid home. I fell into a deep depression.


At one point, during the winter, I practically lived in an old decrepit shed in Mike’s backyard. That’s how desperate I was to get away from what was going on at home. I finally decided that I needed help, so I called social services. They would help me. I made an appointment, took the bus to the office, and when I got there, found my mother waiting for me. They had called her in after I spoke with them. What’s worse, the social worker didn’t believe me. She believed my mother, who knew exactly what to say to discredit me. They sent me home with her, and I went deeper into the darkness.

It kept getting worse and worse. I had nowhere to live, I was the filthiest, nastiest kid possible, and I was barely surviving off of grocery store free samples and “showers” in public restrooms. I was sleeping in a field behind a restaurant, thinking that there has to be someone able to help me somewhere.

I had pushed everyone away, including Mike. I tried to speak out again, this time to a school counselor. Once again, I was told, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you.” It was like my brain shattered at that exact moment, and I decided right there that I was going to attack my school and make them hear me. I had made arrangements with some gang bangers that hung around outside of the school for a gun, one that “shoots a whole lot of bullets”. I was on a three-day wait for them to deliver me my weapon.


The day was approaching, and I was still in a holding pattern with the gun. I had some loose ends to tie up. I reached out to Mike, mostly because I wanted to say goodbye to him. I wanted to thank him for everything and give him some of my stuff. He just sat with me and said: “Dude, I understand. I know it’s really bad. If you want to talk about it, you can. You’re not a monster. You’re not broken. It’s okay. You’re a good kid with a shit family.”

That moment of being treated like a person when I didn’t even feel human changed me. It opened my eyes. I stayed with Mike for the next few days, and I didn’t go back to get the gun. The angst melted away, but it didn’t entirely disappear. My focus switched from being outwardly aggressive to a more internal focus. I started to feel suicidal again.


My birthday was coming up, and I was planning to steal a good deal of prescription medication from my mother and combine that with the dozen or more tabs of acid that I had collected. I was planning to kill myself on my birthday. Once again I wanted to see Mike, to spend as much time with him as possible and say goodbye to my friend.

He told me that he wanted to stop by his friend Amber’s to hang out. I was okay with that, I had hung out with his friends before. I just wanted to hang with Mike one more time. I didn’t care where. When we got to Amber’s house it was a surprise party – for me. There were like a dozen people there, and they had made me a pie for my birthday.

It still chokes me up to this day. Instead of going home and killing myself that night, I stayed there and had an amazing time at a party for me with people that cared about me. That was the last time I was suicidal. Mike saved me.

Twice, technically. He is the uncle to my children, and he’s still my best friend in the world. I’ve had the great honor of having him in the audience of my TED talk. He got to watch me tell my story— our story— on stage.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. My advocacy work started the day after the Parkland shooting. I was talking to my wife and daughter, and they kept saying, “How could someone ever get to that point?” “How could someone ever want to kill so many people?”

I knew the answers to their questions. So, I wrote a Facebook post. I didn’t write it for the mass public, I just wrote it for my family and friends. No one in my family knew all of the details, so coming out was a big deal. I couldn’t have anticipated the massive response that I received to that post.


Now I am the kind of dad I never imagined I could be. I have four kids and they are my life. I’m able to be a parent and a best friend to my kids and live a life that I never thought I could have. I’m much happier. I’m funny, and I laugh all of the time. I try to spread positivity to everyone around me. As outlandish as my story may seem, it’s really important to remember that it’s not unique. It happens a lot more often than people think.

I want those people who are still in a dark place to know that your past isn’t who you are now, it’s just the things that you went through before. When all of the chaos that you’re in and all of the pain that you are feeling seems like it’s never going to end, when there seems to be no hope, just know that time will change that. At the end of the tunnel, there is a light, and you will make it out. I want to be a teacher now. I want to be able to go out and help people. I want to be able to use my story for good.