By Tim Whyte
There are parents in the state of Washington and right here in Santa Clarita who have had to deal with the worst thing any parent can imagine the past week and a half. I’ve never met any of them, nor can I really fathom what they’ve gone through.
But I still relate to them, on some level.
My daughter Brooke attends Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, a great college town amidst the Palouse of eastern Washington. She’s a freshman, and she’s thriving there. I’m so damn proud of her. Excellent student. Participated in sorority rush week right after her mom and I tearfully dropped her off in Pullman, and made a new home and many new friends, too.
Greek life has been great for her, socially. But when news broke that a freshman boy had died at a WSU fraternity Nov. 12, in an apparently alcohol-related incident, my heart jumped. I know my daughter has a good head on her shoulders, yet it was unsettling. How can it not be? Some other dad and mom were getting the worst phone call they can get — their child had died, a child who was going through many of the same experiences and changes that ours was.
They, too, had dropped him off for his college experience, and it had ended in tragedy just a few months later.
The death made national news, and sent shock waves through the WSU Greek community. All fraternity and sorority social events were canceled for the remainder of the semester, and there may yet be more consequences to come.
Then there was Saugus High School.
It’s my alma mater. Class of ’84. My sister graduated from there in 1988. My niece and nephew are Saugus grads. And my daughter — the WSU freshman — graduated from there just last June.
When Nathaniel Berhow pulled out a gun and started shooting in the Saugus quad on the morning of Nov. 14, killing two classmates and wounding several others before turning the gun on himself, I found myself struggling to balance roles. On the one hand, I was the local newspaper editor, needing to coordinate and edit the coverage of one of the most tragic days in the history of the Santa Clarita Valley.
And on the other hand, I was a dad, who continuously throughout that day and since, has been thinking: “That’s so close to home. I walked that quad. My kid walked that quad. And damn, I’m grateful she graduated last year.”
I’ve been experiencing a weird sort of survivor’s guilt for feeling that way.
There are three families here in town who got the worst news that day, and others whose kids survived, but experienced a life-changing trauma that can’t help but scar them forever. My heart ached for those kids and their parents, and at the same time I was relieved that I wasn’t in their shoes.
I’ll be honest. While I was editing and proofing the multiple excellent stories, photos and videos produced by our news team that day, I literally cried in my office.
That’s of course not what you want to see from a grizzled newspaper veteran in the midst of a major breaking story, one that made news not just nationally, but internationally. Yet this grizzled newspaper veteran couldn’t stop thinking of the other moms and dads out there who were experiencing the worst thing any of us can imagine, the loss of a child.
As the scheduling gods would have it, the very next day was the beginning of “Dads Weekend” at Washington State University. My dad and I proceeded with our plans to travel together to Pullman on Friday the 15th, where we would go to a concert and a college football game with my daughter, the Saugus grad. It was surreal to be waiting for our connecting flight in the Oakland airport, and to see Saugus High School all over the news on the TV’s as we ate breakfast.
I felt a bit of professional guilt that day, too, because I was going to be on the road while the news team put together the second-day followups on the shooting, but I also felt like I really needed to see my girl, who I’d last seen in August when we dropped her off in a strange new town on a university campus where she knew no one.
She’s cured that. As I would see over the course of Dads Weekend, she’s made many great new friends and she’s squeezing everything out of the college experience that she can.
But after that long week, after hearing the news of the student death at WSU, and then experiencing the emotions of the Saugus High shooting, and running on three hours of sleep, as we pulled up to her WSU dorm in Pullman on a cold Friday afternoon, I illegally parked the rental car rather than hunting for a parking spot.
I just needed to see my girl.
She came out of her dorm to greet us, with a big, winning smile on her pretty face. I hopped out of the car and gave her a great big hug. I never wanted to let her go.
I got a parking ticket. And that’s the best $40 I’ve ever spent.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: