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Almost A School Shooter, Now An Advocate For Hope

TedX speaker Aaron Stark and filmmaker Jonny Santana in an undated photo.
Jonny Santana
TedX speaker Aaron Stark and filmmaker Jonny Santana in an undated photo.

KPBS Evening Edition anchor Maya Trabulsi spoke with TedX speaker Aaron Stark and filmmaker Jonny Santana about how, together, they are spreading the message that there is hope in everyone.

Aaron Stark is a man who kept a dark secret for 25 years. His secret: He almost became a mass shooter. On a Facebook post a year ago, he let the world know about his dark thoughts and now, together with a local filmmaker, Jonny Santana, they’re spreading the message that there is hope in everyone.

MAYA: Let's start with how this story came to be told.


AARON: The day after the Stoneman Douglas (mass shooting) last year, that terrible massacre, I was having a tearful discussion with my wife and my oldest daughter about how could someone ever get to that point. How could I ever feel like you want to hurt that many people? And sadly I do know how that feels. So I went to the back of the house and I wrote a simple Facebook post. In it, I just said I was almost a school shooter and I laid out a brief synopsis of my story. By the next morning that got Facebook viral, and it had a couple hundred thousand likes and shares.

My wife said, ‘Well maybe someone else might want to hear this.’ So I sent it to the local NBC affiliate in Denver and that video just blew up, got like 17 million views.

VIDEO: I Was Almost A School Shooter

MAYA: Take us back there to the boy who was in so much pain.

AARON: I grew up in a really violent household. I described my first couple of years of life like living in a Stephen King movie. I was constantly a new kid, constantly getting bullied and picked on. In every school I went to, there's a new set of bullies. I was fat. I was smelly. I read comic books. I was sensitive. I was just picked on by everybody. And I started to adapt that, that I'm the monster. I'm the broken one.

And I was going to make them hear me now. So all those plans that I had talked with my friends, all that fantasy, that just crystallized. I know exactly what I'm going to do. I'm either going to go to my school or I’m going to go to the food court at the mall. The only difference is the time of the day of what time I was gonna get the gun. I knew where I’d get a gun because there was gang bangers that went to my school, so I went up to him like, ‘Hey, can you get me a gun?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, sure, get me an ounce of weed.’ I went to my mom's house, stole an ounce of drugs off a guy sleeping on my mom's floor. I went to him and he’s like, ‘All right, give me three days, I'll get you a gun.’


MAYA: But your friend got to you before you got to the gun.

AARON: Yes. And got to me by the simplest most human acts. By doing exactly what I just talked about. By not treating me like I was a project, by not treating me like I was broken, by like, ‘Dude, you're all right. Sit down. Have a meal. You're okay. Watch this movie with me. What do you want to do today?’

We just have to let people know that they're okay.

MAYA: Do you think that people knowing that they're okay would have stopped the number of shootings that we're seeing?

AARON: I think it would have at least stopped some. And like I said, even one’s enough. Even stopping one’s enough. Even stopping one person from wanting to hurt themselves right now is enough. One person at a time.

I never ended up going to get the gun. I stayed at Mike’s house for the rest of that weekend and spent time with people who loved me.

MAYA: Jonny, you had 150 volunteer teenage actors simulating a school shooting. What kind of feedback did you get during that shooting process?

JONNY: What’s happened after every single film set that we do, since these people are so young, they come to me and they tell me about their experience at school. How when they're at school and they hear a door shut loudly they're scared that a shooting might occur or that they pray in their car with their parents before they enter. And so everybody on set felt very empowered and good that they're working towards sharing a story and message of compassion and love for people.

MAYA: You feel that the people who you're trying to reach are reachable?

AARON: Yeah, everybody is reachable. There's a very small section that's going to follow through with the attacks. There's a huge amount of people who are in that gray area, in that depressive spot that could … that think that they might, that think that maybe they should. There's a big amount of people in that area and those are the ones that we can reach. Up until the minute you pull that trigger, you can be reached.

JONNY: In a world that's suffering, any voice of hope is a beautiful thing. And that's what makes me feel good when I wake up in the morning knowing that we all worked on this project and I'm sure it's what makes Aaron feel good. Any voice of hope is a great thing in today's world because there’s a lot of people suffering.

AARON: I just want to help someone that’s in that darkness find a way out of it. And if I can help one person find that then I'm going to keep on going for the rest of my life.

Almost A School Shooter, Now An Advocate For Hope
Listen to this story by Maya Trabulsi.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.