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."
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.