The Hunger For Vengeance In The UNCC Shooting, And The Reasons Not To Feed It

Sep 23, 2019

Vengeance, in our imaginations, is a cleansing thing. It might not make things right, but it makes them even. So I completely understand why the living victims of the UNC Charlotte shooter feel the way they do.

Some of them are furious that Trystan Terrell was allowed to plead guilty and take a life sentence without parole instead of going to trial and facing the death penalty.

Julie Parlier’s son, Reed, was killed in the shooting. After Terrell’s sentencing, she told the Charlotte Observer: “In our ideal world, he would just be taken out back and shot on the spot, in the head, just like he did to Reed.”

Drew Pescaro, who was shot in the attack, said on Twitter: “Welcome to Charlotte, North Carolina. A place where you can be shot, witness two of your classmates die, three others sustain injuries, and the murderer gets to determine the ‘punishment’ that works best for him.”

Their pain matters. Their words matter more than any feeble attempt I make this morning to make sense of it all.

But having said that, there’s a reason we have a system of courts and prisons rather than simple frontier justice. It’s not just to protect the accused.

Years ago, in 2005, I witnessed an execution. A man named Elias Syriani had murdered his wife in front of one of their four children. The children wrote him out of their lives as he spent more than a decade on Death Row. But toward the end, the children chose to forgive their father. They appealed to Gov. Mike Easley to stop the execution. But their appeal was denied.

At 2 a.m., three unseen executioners plunged syringes into IV tubes. Two of the syringes sent the lethal chemicals into Syriani’s veins. The third went to an empty bag. The reason they do it that way is so none of the executioners will know for sure if they were the ones responsible for killing a human being.

His children had decided they could not watch. There were only a few of us in the cold, dark room as we watched him die on the other side of the glass. That’s a night I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.

At one time, his children might have welcomed that moment. They might have thought it evened the score. But over time, and with perspective, they changed their minds.

That’s the thing about vengeance. In the moment, it might seem like the only thing that makes sense. But it does not account for time, or forgiveness, or the complications of the human heart.

That probably doesn’t feel like justice. But maybe it feels like life.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.