An Open Letter to Donald Trump, Jr.

On July 20th, 2012, you were a guest on a radio show. During this radio show the hosts of the program were discussing the still unraveling details about a mass shooting that occurred in a movie theater in Aurora, CO earlier that day. You, along with the hosts, listened to eye witness commentary describing a woman holding her jaw that had been shot. In response you said enthusiastically, “Overall, I give the movie two thumbs up!” insinuating that the commentary, the act of terrorism itself, or the aftermath were considered entertaining to you. Were you joking? Maybe. Was this event and the media circus that followed indeed entertaining to you? Sounds probable. I can’t say for sure but I would assume that you finished your time at the radio station, had lunch, and went on with your life as normal. That aside from the fact that this tragedy just so happened to be subject matter during a show that you just so happened to be guest starring on, it had no real impact on you whatsoever after that day.

Let me tell you what I was doing on July 20th, 2012. I had planned to spend that day with a dear friend of mine. I had attended a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a theater in Chicago the night before so when I was awoken by her phone call that morning I had assumed I had slept in and answered it hastily. She told me that there was a shooting at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO and that according to a check-in on Facebook, her brother John was in that theater.

Allow me to give you a brief background story. I had grown up with this friend and her family in our small, northern Illinois town. By 2012, we had been friends for a little over 20 years. We had the kind of friendship where I could walk into her childhood home without knocking and say, “Hello family!” and would receive a resounding “Hello!” back from any one of her 2 sisters, her 2 brothers, or her parents. And as their family grew, I would also be greeted by her husband, her children, her sisters’ spouses and kids, along with any other family friend that happened to be over in the always welcoming home of her parents’. I had grown to consider them a kind of second family.

Back to July 20th. In my morning haze, what my friend was telling me on the phone wasn’t computing but once I turned the TV on and saw the coverage it started becoming clear. There was a man with orange hair who had entered a theater where John was watching a movie and shot and killed people. And now John wasn’t picking up his phone. For the next, I don’t even really remember how long (10? 13 hours?) I sat on a couch and waited for news. I texted my friend to see if there were any updates to give. She would text me back immediately to tell me what little she could. Her other brother was on a flight to Colorado to see if he could get any answers from the authorities. I called a cousin of mine who had formerly interned with the Denver Police Department to see if he could ask anyone he knew there if they could find out information or check local hospitals to find if John was there but maybe misidentified. I watched the news and then, not wanting to hear the same loop of information again and again, switched to a different TV show to try to focus on something other than the fact that my body was shaking and I had a very real suspicion that John was either horribly maimed or dead.

After spending the day in this state I decided to make my way to my hometown in the suburbs where my friend and her family (as well as a ton of local news trucks) were all at her parents’ home waiting for information. I texted her on the ride and did not immediately hear back from her, contrary to her prompt return responses all day. I knew something was horribly wrong and as it turns out, it was. John was murdered on July 20th, 2012, as were 11 other people. Many more were injured and as a result of this event, hundreds and hundreds of lives were changed forever.

But it doesn’t just end there! No, sir! Because guess what? After we got to experience the horrific and tragic loss of a great United States Navy member, brother, uncle, son, and friend we got to deal with the long, drawn out judicial process that resulted with his killer being tried. From July 20th, 2012 till late summer of 2015 the victims and their families and friends got to have their days interrupted by media coverage of this savage. Imagine being in a restaurant or bar, having a nice meal with friends when suddenly the face of the person who killed your friend was on a TV staring at you. Now imagine having this happen many, many times over. If you think that a thing like that might ruin your day, you’re right. It does.

I had the chance to see John’s killer in person when I flew to Colorado to be with my friend and her family during the trial. I got to see him sit in his chair in the row across from me and swivel back and forth, back and forth. He did this for 8 hours every day while witness after witness came to the front of the court to point to where they were sitting on a custom made model of the theater they were in on July 20th, 2012 and to recap their memories of the horror they witnessed down to every last detail. They came into court with long scars draped across their necks from bullets ripping through them. They came into court in wheelchairs from being paralyzed that night. They came into court without their children that had been in the theater that evening because they were dead.

Does all of this sound entertaining to you, Donald Trump, Jr.? Does this all sound like it would be “two thumbs up” worthy? Have you ever seen 5 service men kneel before a family, presenting each surviving member with an American flag in tribute to their dead son and brother as they cry in agony? Would you pay $12 and grab some popcorn to experience something like this? I doubt it. And let me say, I hope you never have to because the reality of it is nightmare inducing and life changing. What I would like from you is an apology. Not to me, but to the victims of the Aurora, Colorado massacre as well as to the victims and families of any tragedy like this that has had to deal with media circuses that follow and with commentary by people so far removed that they may in their own minds find the situations “entertaining.” You could go so far as to start a charitable foundation for victims of mass murders, be it scholarships, or assistance of some other kind. You choose! I mean, that just seems like a nice gesture to come from a guy who laughed at the extremely painful loss of others. But at the very least, an apology for your utter lack of respect and complete disregard for people who are experiencing the worst tragedies of their lives. Again, I sincerely hope that you never have to experience a loss of this magnitude but you certainly don’t need to be involved in a tragedy to have basic human empathy for it.

Susie M. Grant