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."
Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

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