What stopped this man from nearly becoming a school shooter.

Sometimes, a shared moment of deeply personal honesty does more good than pointing fingers.

When Aaron Stark was a teenage high-schooler in the mid-1990s, he was depressed and a victim of bullying. He collected weapons and fantasized about becoming a school shooter.

Instead, compassion from others helped him turn his life around.


Stark recently shared his experience in a powerful new essay published by Denver NBC affiliant 9News called "I was almost a school shooter." He also read the piece on camera in an act of personal courage and honesty he hopes could help someone else walk back from the brink.

Stark had been bullied for years and was close to lashing out

"I was picked on and bullied. For being fat. For being smart. For not playing sports," Stark writes of his time at Denver's North High School. "So I got angry, and I started hiding weapons around anywhere I hung out at frequently. I had hidden around me knives, sticks, shanks, brass knuckles, whatever. I always kept one in arms reach."

Stark said that while mental health was a real issue for him, he also thinks a "lack of love" seriously affected his worldview and thinks that may have been a factor for "this kid" — meaning Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz — as well.

One thing kept him from taking the ultimate step.

Before he got the help he desperately needed, he gives credit to one thing that kept him from becoming a school shooter: He didn't have access to an assault rifle. The now-defunct federal assault weapons ban, first passed into law in 1994, meant that it was virtually impossible for someone like Stark to purchase the type of weapon commonly used in mass shootings, including the Parkland school shooting.

Stark writes:

"I didn't have access to an assault rifle. I was almost a school shooter. I am not a school shooter because I didn't have access to guns. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. But people with guns kill lots of people."

Strong laws and compassion saved his life and potentially countless others.

These days, Stark is a husband and father. He says he still occasionally struggles with depression but now has access to the necessary tools and treatments to face it. A combination of commonsense gun laws and access to mental health treatments helped him avoid a tragic turn in his life and eventually get better. He explains:

"I wrote this because my wife and daughter kept saying how they could not understand what could make someone do this. Sadly, I can. This is a hard conversation to have, but we must have it."
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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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