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How can I stop dwelling on my actions that may have caused loss of life?
April 16, 2012 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I feel (at the very least) tangentially responsible for another persons death (murder) and I just can't shake it.

OK so forgive me if this is long and meandering.

Several months ago I was waiting for a ride at a public light rail station. A truck pulled up and parked within 50 to 75 feet from me and a young couple got out and kind of just stood by the truck making out and stuff, they seemed all lovey-dovey. This went on for about 20 minutes. Eventually they stopped and she got her bag out of the car and started walking up towards the train platform and the guy said something -I don't know what I was wearing headphones listening to music- to her and jumped in the truck real quick. She clearly got upset because she started running back towards the truck yelling at him. She got back to the truck just as he was backing out and putting the truck in drive to go forward. His window was rolled down. She was still yelling (and by this time I had taken me headphones out but I still couldn't really make out what was being said though I was being as nosy as possible) and he started to pull away. She threw her stuff in the bed of the truck and she tried to jump in the bed. So he stopped and she went back to the window and just started wailing on him. Hitting and slapping him. So he started driving away. She ran alongside the truck and was trying to climb in the window it looked like when he hit a curb and it jostled her loose and she fell to the ground. He drove away. Myself and three other girls who saw the whole thing unfold went up to her to see if she was okay and she just stormed past us and called someone on the phone and headed to the platform. She didn't appear to have any injuries or anything, just kind of shook up. She got on the next train that came to the station and was gone.

about 15 minutes later a police car pulled up and got out and was just looking around and I said "Are you here about the girl?" And he was like "yeah did you see it? Tell me what happened." So I did, pretty much what I said above but with more specifics (kind of car, race, what they were wearing - stuff that isn't relevant to this post). He said they had gotten a call that a guy had ran over a girl then drove off. He asked if I would characterize it that way and I said "no." He asked if it looked like she was the aggressor or if he pulled her into the car. I said that he was trying to pull away and she was trying to stop him, that if she would have not reached in the window he would have drove off, though once she kind of got her head and arms in there was no way for me to know if he started pulling her in, as they were driving away from me. Anyway, he took my info and left.

A few days later I got a call from a detective wanting to come and get a written statement so I agreed. I wrote the same details that I said above. He said the girl was contending that he purposefully ran over her and was being held charged with attempted murder. He asked the same question the responding officer did, would I characterize it that way, as the girl being ran over and I said no. Went through the same spiel really. They said they would be in touch and that I may need to be deposed, etc and left. Some days later I received a call from the detective saying that being the only unbiased witness and that my retelling matched, almost exactly, the guys account he was freed and thanked me for my statement etc. I remember specifically he said "normally the guy in these situations is screwed because when there is no witness favor is usually given to the girls side of the story" or something to that effect. He said the girl eventually said that it happened more or less the way I said.

So that was that. Then, a couple of months back, mrs holdkris and I were watching the local news and a story came up about a guy who had killed his girlfriend and sure enough, it was them. I couldn't fucking believe it. Still can't. Since then I have been questioning myself about what I actually saw. If I did the right thing by even talking to the responding officer. What my responsibilities were in this situation. Some of my friends have told me that I did the wrong thing, that I should have assumed the guy was a dick and should have either not said anything or not made it seem like it was the girl's fault when talking to the cops. I didn't really think I was assigning blame, I was just reporting what I saw.

Anyway, I know none of this is a question. I feel like I did the right thing and am not looking for validation. My question is how to deal with the feelings that, had i kept my mouth shut, this girl would still be a live and the guy would probably be in jail for attempted murder or some kind of lesser plea or something. I am not one to dwell on the past, ever, but this I just can't shake. I feel somewhat guilty even asking for help for my mental/emotional well being when there is a family out there that have lost a daughter. I realize therapy is going to be a common suggestion but I have no insurance and little means to pay for it, even on a sliding scale basis, though I am open to suggestions for anyplace that does that kind of thing pro bono. I travel to all of the big cities in TX at east twice a month so any place in Dallas/Houston/Austin/San Antonio would be fine (I am an athiest. I know I could talk to any number of religious leaders ie. priest and preachers and such, but I would refer a secular option) Any recommendations from personal experience or if you can point me to some books or anything that might help.
posted by holdkris99 to Human Relations (47 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You did the right thing. You had zero knowledge of what he could do, and you reported exactly what you saw. If you had done anything else, you would have been wrong.
posted by cmiller at 2:53 PM on April 16, 2012 [45 favorites]


You had no knowledge of the backstory here. You are not responsible for other people's choices. In fact, you have no control over other people's choices. You should take comfort in the fact that you told the truth. Just think how you would feel if you had shaded the story one way or another when speaking to the police. Even worse, I'm sure.
posted by raisingsand at 2:56 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Victim's services may have services for you, or referrals to same. Making use of these does not diminish the pain of the family who lost their child, nor trivialize it.

Keep in mind that he might have killed his girlfriend whatever you said to the cops, or if you hadn't talked to them at all, or if you hadn't been there to see anything. You told the truth as you knew it to be, and from there on out, he made choices, too. You can't control those. (You already know this, I bet.)

He didn't kill her because of what you did. He really didn't.

Please reach out to whatever services are aailable to victims and witnesses of crime; it's what they're there for.
posted by rtha at 3:00 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Since then I have been questioning myself about what I actually saw. If I did the right thing by even talking to the responding officer. What my responsibilities were in this situation.

Your responsibility was to tell the truth, the way you understood it: to describe what you saw and heard. You did that. This guy's subsequent, horrible decisions have nothing to do with you.

But understand that your brain, like all human brains, is a compulsive and automatic seeker of meanings and patterns. It is not at all unusual for you to be looking for meaning out of this highly charged and indeed traumatic situation. It's perfectly normal for your brain to be asking whether there is something you could have done, or should have done, differently, because that's a survival trait that goes way back.

As much as you and I know that you did the right thing, that you discharged your responsibilities as best you could, there's still this nagging questioner that keeps bothering you. That's normal. It really is. Don't take it as a sign that there really is something else you should have done. I don't have a recommendation for a therapist in your area but this is indeed something that a therapist can help you with. Good luck to you.
posted by gauche at 3:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [13 favorites]


If you had a time machine, what would you do differently? Would you go back in time and lie to the police officer about what you had observed? Would that actually have helped anything? I doubt it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:06 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is not your fault.

It may be good to know that no two witnesses to any situation ever really see the same thing. You saw exactly what you saw, and couldn't have known the motivations behind it. You reported truthfully, as a good citizen would.

This is not your fault.
posted by xingcat at 3:07 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding victim's services. You might not be out of place at a meeting for crime survivors. Something like that-- ah, it's so hard to stop second-guessing yourself. I daresay you feel a lot like someone who was in a store when it was violently robbed and someone was killed. You were really powerless to stop it and that's what's truly scary in my opinion. Good luck.
posted by BibiRose at 3:08 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


how to deal with the feelings that, had i kept my mouth shut, this girl would still be a live and the guy would probably be in jail for attempted murder or some kind of lesser plea or something.

You need someone to talk to about this. Basically, someone you can tell all your "If I had done X, there might have been outcome Y" thoughts. You already know intellectually that you did the right thing. Talking through it (thoroughly) can get you to the place where you believe it, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:12 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's impossible to know, but it's likely these two were destined to be oil and water and that the incident you witnessed and the one leading to her death were among many. Also, there had to be a fair number of people who knew them, offering help, and statistically the couple would have rebuffed any efforts.

You were such a small passing person in the scope of all that was taking place. The momentum of events was not in your favor to effect change. I'm sorry.

For free support services, please try a Unitarian Universalist Minister in any of the locations you mentioned. I've personally heard good from the Houston location. Atheists are welcome and faith standing is not relevant.
posted by Feisty at 3:32 PM on April 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Speaking completely logically - the time between the incident and the murder sounds like a few months. Trials can take much longer. If he had been charged but was out on bail she would still be dead. Since you would have had nothing to do with the bail decision, your actions had no impact either way.
posted by desjardins at 3:33 PM on April 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


You reported what you saw. What happened later has nothing to do with what you witnessed


Furthermore, your so-called friends who didn't witness the crime and are telling you what you should have said are being ASSHOLES.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:35 PM on April 16, 2012 [68 favorites]


If you can't afford therapy, then perhaps a support group in your area would benefit you. Consider attending a support group such as grief support groups, victim support groups, or even a group for trauma victims since this is something that you can't shake off (understandably so).

If you do think of this as traumatic, then consider getting the book "Life After Trauma-A Workbook for Healing."

This workbook is emotionally difficult to work through, but it explains trauma and provides effective exercises.

Another thing, realize that you have the right to feel WHATEVER. You have the right to feel angry at the situation, guilty, sad, WHATEVER. Just because you didn't know this girl, it doesn't mean that your pain deserves to go unacknowledged. That's far from the truth. You need to acknowledge your feelings in order to truly move forward.

Eventually, I think you need to tell yourself in a self-affirmative kind of way that you reacted the best way that you could, the only way you knew how to in that particular moment.

Counteract negative thoughts or doubtful thoughts (those what if thoughts) with self-affirmative or comforting thoughts instead. Don't let the what if thoughts take control because in that moment, you did the best that you could. You did what you felt was right and you know that too.
posted by livinglearning at 3:35 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


You should definitely check into victim services and get some counseling.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2012


Since then I have been questioning myself about what I actually saw. If I did the right thing by even talking to the responding officer. What my responsibilities were in this situation.

I feel like this is actually a very normal thing to go through as a witness, even under much, much less difficult circumstances. I witnessed a guy kick in a car window and grab stuff from inside. When the cop came and took me and a second witness on a ride down the block to see if we spotted him, we found him almost immediately. As the cop approached the guy and we sat in the back seat of the cruiser, I had a sudden overwhelming feeling of doubt and guilt. It was clearly the same man, but what if I was somehow wrong? and now he was going to jail, and it was my fault. I looked at the other witness (who I did not know), and she looked back at me and said something like, oh my god what if we were wrong? It was a clear-cut situation and they even found items from the missing car on him, but I still remember that overwhelming sense of really messing with someone's life, in a big way, and being responsible for the suffering of another person.

In your case, you absolutely did the right thing. The best thing you can do is tell the truth at that moment. It's still a very, very hard thing to contemplate. I'm sorry your friends think you should have done otherwise, because the justice system only works if people are honest. Sometimes it works in favor of people who have done and will do bad things, but there is no real way to solve that problem. It's an imperfect situation, but it is not something you contributed to by being truthful.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:47 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some family friends who live in Tasmania, Australia, were out sailing one day. They were far enough away that land was only barely visible, and they came across a small tinny (little tin boat with a small outboard motor). The guy had run out of petrol and was drifting. He had no oars, no food, and no one knew he'd headed out for the day. He'd almost certainly have died if they hadn't found him.

So, they take him on board and tow his boat home.

His name was Martin Bryant. Several months later he killed 35 people in Australia's worst ever massacre.

All we can do is the right thing at the time. We can't predict the future.
posted by twirlypen at 3:56 PM on April 16, 2012 [90 favorites]


holdkris99, what if you had lied and the guy went to jail, and you heard on the news he had been murdered in prison? Or had been the victim of extreme violence or torture there. Or was locked up for 10 years. Could you imagine how you would feel if you had heard that? And you would not be able to hold up your head because you would know you had lied about it.

You did the right thing here, exactly the right thing. You told the truth. You did EXACTLY what you were supposed to do.

All of our actions on this planet are intertwined in a way that none of us can escape from. Good things and bad things flow from ALL of the actions that all of us take every single day. Say the car in front of me makes it through a yellow light but I don't make it through because I don't want to run a red. I now set off a chain that delays everyone behind me for 30 seconds. Maybe 200 cars back, someone hits a cyclist and that would not have happened if I had run that red light. Maybe the cyclist end up never having children. The chain of events is going to keep flowing forever.

All you can do is live your life in a moral way which is exactly what you did.

And holdkris99, what if the guy had gone to prison and come out 10 years later as a hardened felon? What then? He's going to go look for another gf right? Or maybe he would come back to pay a visit to the girl that sent him to prison. If he is the murdering type, there's no way you can hold yourself responsible for thinking of all the various scenarios he could do that and prevent all of them. We have come up with a way to deal with this. It's our justice system. And the way it works is we pass laws and work within those laws to stop people like this. It is EXACTLY what you did, you followed our agreed-upon justice system perfectly.
posted by cairdeas at 4:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know you did the right thing. What's bothering you is the obsessive doubt that tends to be a side-effect of such situations (as gauche, oneirodynia, et al. have described). My cheap go-to solution for obsessive doubt is The Worry Trap, a no-drama self-help book with tons of exercises for getting over things or putting them in perspective.

Another suggestion: even though you know you did the right thing, people sometimes can be talked out of believing what they know to be true, by being told the opposite often enough. So perhaps part of the problem is your 'friends', some of whom apparently ought to be replaced.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


As someone who works every day with people involved in domestic assault cases, I urge you not to beat yourself up about it. Your keeping your mouth shut wouldn't have changed a thing.

As you witnessed yourself, these tumultuous relationships swing between hot and cold with great speed. Lovey-dovey one minute, and slapping and kicking the next. And usually both parties are significantly responsible for the turmoil.

IF YOU HAD KEPT YOUR MOUTH SHUT and the man had been prosecuted, he would have made bond and maybe pled guilty, but he almost certainly would have still been with her and still had every reason and opportunity to kill her.

His being prosecuted would have changed nothing.

There is nothing surprising or inconsistent about the guy being the relatively innocent party that night, and killing her months later. What you saw is the tragedy of a toxic relationship in which both parties were culpable. Sadly, it happens all the time.
posted by jayder at 4:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


The police did their investigation of the incident you witnessed. You recounted the facts as you saw them. They freed the man. It is entirely possible (and likely given what you saw and the fact that the charges were dropped) that he did not commit a crime that day.

Although he might have been locked up and unable to later kill his girlfriend, helping to put someone in jail for a crime they did not commit by withholding what you witnessed would have been wrong. You did not do that and, in fact, you did the right thing. The intervening events between that day and the day of the girlfriend's murder are not your responsibility.
posted by murrey at 4:17 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil: "If you had a time machine, what would you do differently? Would you go back in time and lie to the police officer about what you had observed?"
You have absolutely no blame in this situation. But, if you had lied to the police about what you saw, you would be responsible for the consequences that befell the man as a result of your lies. In the worst case for you personally, you could have found yourself in legal trouble, having been charged with perjury.

We all make decisions every minute of the day that can have dramatic and horrible consequences for people. We all make these decisions at a point in time and with no ability to foretell the future. You did absolutely the right thing. Absolutely. Anyone who says you should have put your own future at risk by committing the crime of perjury is no friend of yours.
posted by dg at 4:19 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some of my friends have told me that I did the wrong thing, that I should have assumed the guy was a dick and should have either not said anything or not made it seem like it was the girl's fault when talking to the cops.

Obviously, your friends are wrong.

I didn't really think I was assigning blame, I was just reporting what I saw.

That's correct, and that's the feeling you need to hold on to. Hindsight is wonderful, but what if she had gone over to his apartment and shot him later? Would you have felt guilty for keeping him out of jail where he would have been safe? What if you lied -- yes, lied -- and made it seem like his fault, and then he killed her? Would you be wracked with guilt because your lie and his subsequent likelihood of incarceration may have provoked him into doing it?

Ultimately, the circumstances that led to the situation you witnessed, and that followed it, happened because of them, not you. If anything, if you had lied and something bad had happened, then I'd say you needed therapy to help you deal with the fact that your lie may have triggered something that might not have happened, but this? Your guilt is self-imposed (and imposed by your friends, some of whom are being dicks, frankly) and your therapy needs to focus on helping you understand that you did the only right thing under the circumstances. The only right thing.
posted by davejay at 4:29 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


And tell your friends to fuck off, because you told the truth, and you're not responsible for the truth of the situation, those people were.
posted by davejay at 4:31 PM on April 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Thanks for the responses so far. One thing that keeps creeping into my mind is that I should somehow try to contact her family or something, I don't know why, well I do know why, hoping they can somehow absolve me. I know that is wrong on probably every level. They are no doubt trying to move on, if they even know about the incident and how it unfolded they may hold a grudge, etc. I know its not smart and i'm not going to do it.

I also thought about writing the dude and saying - something, I dunno what. Again, this isn't a good idea either probably.

I'm an addict. I have two years clean. I have a good support system for that and i'm not gonna go out and use or anything. I'm just saying I have that self destructive addict thinking that's rearing its head and I get an idea in myhead and analyze it and think okay here are 40 reasons that this idea is terrible but one reason that is not and its usually a selfish reason, like thinking her family could absolve me.
posted by holdkris99 at 4:40 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Her family may make you feel worse, rather than absolving you. They could be complete jerks. Grieving jerks -- but jerks.

We have a tendency to assume that victims have the moral high ground across the board. It's just not very likely. Most people are kind of jerks. It doesn't mean they deserve to be made victims. It just means that they're not likely to fulfill your idealized narrative. Or give you the grace you're craving.

You deserve grace. This is so far from your fault. It's something that had a big impact on you, but actually had nothing to do with you.

Protect your tender feelings and give yourself the grace you seek.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:49 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


How about writing those two letters to her family and to the dude, but not sending them. If you're like me, the act of writing something thoughtful and structured can help make sense of the intangible.
posted by a_green_man at 4:50 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I didn't really think I was assigning blame, I was just reporting what I saw.

Exactly. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is no other ethical option. None.

If you had lied in order to ensure that this guy would be thrown in jail and do no harm to his girlfriend (and how could you have known what he would do next anyhow, let alone be culpable for it), then you would have been usurping the roles of law enforcement and the justice system as a whole by passing judgment on him and condemning him when you had no right. Perjury is defined as a felony offense for good reason.

That your friends are suggesting you are responsible for his subsequent actions and should have committed a crime yourself is ridiculous, ignorant, and cruel. Consider whether or not you really want these people in your life.

On preview, congratulations on being two years clean. It's perfectly normal and understandable that you are having doubts and imagining ways that things could turn out differently. That's okay. But your thoughts are not your actions, and you know these actions would not do you any good. That's key. When destructive thoughts go through your head, acknowledge that you just had a painful experience that you're still reeling from, remind yourself that they're just thoughts that have no bearing on how you'll actually behave, and continue doing what you know to be the healthy thing.

I honestly think you'll be okay. The person who wrote this AskMe is a smart, articulate, moral, and compassionate person. Have some compassion for yourself and take care.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:01 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some of my friends have told me that I did the wrong thing, that I should have assumed the guy was a dick and should have either not said anything or not made it seem like it was the girl's fault when talking to the cops. I didn't really think I was assigning blame, I was just reporting what I saw.

You should never assume anything based only on gender. You're friends are sexist, and hopefully don't have any kind of decision making role in their professions or communities.

Prejudice (traditional or "reversed") is never a better choice than honesty and you did the right thing.
posted by oblio_one at 5:14 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a recovering addict, albeit an atheist one, would AA or NA be an option?

The Serenity Prayer comes to mind here.
posted by salvia at 5:16 PM on April 16, 2012


I never had success at AA/NA. Maybe its the "god of your understanding thing" maybe its because I didn't approach it right, maybe its because getting in a roomful of addicts is not the best idea or maybe I never found the right group. I dunno
posted by holdkris99 at 5:21 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


More logic: Let's say you were the guy in the truck, except you've never had any violent intent. Your girlfriend flips out on you and behaves as you described. A witness supports her story and implicates you as the aggressor, even though that's not what happened. You'd be in jail for not having done anything wrong - the witness would have implicated you based on some imputed future crime. That is clearly wrong.

So since you couldn't have known the man's state of mind, you might have helped convict an innocent (at the time) man.
posted by desjardins at 5:22 PM on April 16, 2012


Maybe if the woman hadn't died, she would have gone on to kill scores of innocent people. You can't take responsibility for the entire causative chain.

I know it's hard to get out of a mental thought pattern like this though. Maybe go somewhere beautiful in nature?
posted by salvia at 5:34 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


You did the completely right thing. It would have been unethical if you had done anything less at the time. It was none of your business to do anything more. It seems the outcome from that specific incident was correct, and that was the only contact you had with it.

There are infinite what-ifs, and what-ifs are generally not productive after the fact. But one that occurred to me here, only an opinion, is that the girl, seeing witnesses about, overplayed it trying to set up a phony situation to get the guy jailed. Yet in this specific incident you saw, that was not justified. As if she was setting him up at that time, and also setting up witnesses of a false attack. This is a what-if and is not productive. It just doesn't matter.

If you feel the need, many churches have weekly or monthly "anxiety" or similar meetings, for free, and church membership is not required, and religious beliefs are usually held to the lightest touch. And, you get what you pay for, but such groups are friendly and accepting and well meaning.

Instead, I hope this page is all the "counseling" you need. You were 100% correct, right, true, and ethical, in what you did, and what came after that had nothing to do with what you did, or what you said, or with you.

(I don't like to appear to order someone to do something but) Do Not contact either the family or the guy. Nothing positive could possibly come from that. If any of them wanted to, they could track you down and contact you, but again nothing positive could possibly come from that. They can't "absolve" you because there is nothing to absolve, and they do not have any power to do so anyway. What you told the police is in the police report of the time, and it was true, and that's that.

I suggest you and your Mrs. take a little reward here, have a nice dinner or something, and officially close this chapter. Not to forget it, but it is a closed matter and leave it closed now. You did the right thing, you did your best, you did your best thing possible in that matter. On the success or fail scale what you did was a Success, not a Fail, and it is closed now.

On to better things, and more chapters.
posted by caclwmr4 at 5:55 PM on April 16, 2012


One thing that keeps creeping into my mind is that I should somehow try to contact her family or something, I don't know why, well I do know why, hoping they can somehow absolve me.

Maybe you can do something that is a replacement for this in a way? When my dog died I knew logically that I did everything the best I could but I still had so much guilt, so I kind of compulsively gave crazy amounts of money to dog rescues for a long time, donated for veterinary care of other dogs, things like that. Part of my kind of crazed thinking at the time was that if I gave so much money that it hurt, I would feel sufficiently punished in a way. Maybe you could volunteer with domestic violence victims or give money to their organizations?
posted by cairdeas at 5:56 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons I recommend that, by the way, is that although it's normally not a good thing, volunteers and people who donate for causes often experience burnout. The feeling that you have done everything you possibly can and there is no more anyone could reasonably ask of you, and there is no way that you are going to be able to solve this whole problem. That can make people feel despair, but I think in situations when you are grappling with the feeling that somehow you did not do everything you possibly could, getting there, when you genuinely feel that there is not one thing more than you can do and you have exhausted yourself, can be a relief.
posted by cairdeas at 6:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are not Tom Cruise, and life is not Minority Report.

If one of your friends were in your current position, and you found out they'd been obsessing about having failed to prevent a crime they were in no way responsible for, you'd sympathize rather than blame, yes?
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 PM on April 16, 2012


Given your experiences as an addict and the availability of supporting folks that you mention, this would be a good time to reach out for support, without shame. You didn't do anything wrong, but your emotional struggle is real, so go get the support you need and deserve.
posted by davejay at 7:25 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I'm an addict. I have two years clean. I have a good support system for that and i'm not gonna go out and use or anything. I'm just saying I have that self destructive addict thinking that's rearing its head and I get an idea in myhead and analyze it and think okay here are 40 reasons that this idea is terrible but one reason that is not and its usually a selfish reason, like thinking her family could absolve me.

Can I gently suggest that you're maybe looking for absolution for other stuff? You did the right thing. You've gotta let this go, it has nothing to do with you.

You're not responsible for this girl's murder at all. There is no reason to believe that reporting the story differently would have saved her life. It's just not a thing that anyone can know. C'mon, six degrees and all that, we're all tangentially connected to all kinds of things that happen, good and bad.
posted by desuetude at 8:42 PM on April 16, 2012


Some of my friends have told me that I did the wrong thing

These assholes make me furious. It's better to try to frame an innocent person for a crime they did not commit, just because the opportunity is there? It's better to simply assume that a guy is a dick, than to recognise as told by an officer of the law that the other person is trying to frame an innocent person for a serious crime they didn't commit?

Wait, I was just writing something about the escalation to murder, but paused at a value assumption I've been making... I feel that murder is a far greater crime than attempting to frame someone, and this is the value context I was using, but...
When I put it in the context of asking myself whether "killing an attacker who has already nearly succeeded in ending your life as you know it", is worse than "framing an innocent person for attempted murder", things get a lot murkier for me. I certainly don't think her attack (that we know about) justifies his, but I feel much more like the both of them are utter scum-of-the-earth who both met terrible ends through the vileness of their own actions (ie I assume the murderer is found guilty), and were I in your shoes, my disgust at the whole sorry affair and the clear choices they had every opportunity to not make, instead of being so despicable, and the ruin that rained down as a result... it would pretty severely limit the amount that I would feel I had a hand in their ruin.

posted by -harlequin- at 8:48 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


You did an amazing, difficult, and honorable thing. You were brought -- suddenly and with no foresight -- into someone else's violent, distorted drama and you kept a steady gaze and bore true witness. This is so hard to do and on many levels so important, so very important. And you did it.

Now that you have found out how that violent drama played out -- at their doing, not yours -- please try to keep this in mind. Like others above I would encourage you specifically to take advantage of the victim resources available either in your area or in the area where the incident that you witnessed took place. In many areas, these resources are offered via programs that are known specifically as "Victim/Witness Assistance Programs" because the need to offer help to witnesses is well known -- your struggle is real and is a result, not a cause, of the violence you witnessed directly and then indirectly when you saw the news. Here is a place you might start in Texas where they can very likely point you in the right direction to resources near where you are:

Texas Department of Public Safety Victim Services

My hope for you is that you will not only find some relief from your current emotional/mental struggle but also again see your actions as what they were and still are: the sign of a steady, responsible hand. Again, what you did is so important. Thanks for doing it.

Good luck to you and take care.
posted by beanie at 9:24 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


You did absolutely the right thing, and for some reason you want to blame yourself for this. I didn't read every comment above, but I didn't see any that agree with you. Your friends had a screwy moment when they blamed you (or are just screwy). Do not contact anyone - someone might well agree with you and blame you, and you don't need that. You need to absolutely put this behind you. You told the truth and told it consistently, better than many witnesses can do!
posted by Listener at 12:26 AM on April 17, 2012


Some of my friends have told me that I did the wrong thing, that I should have assumed the guy was a dick and should have either not said anything or not made it seem like it was the girl's fault when talking to the cops.

Your friends are wrong. They are saying you should have lied. That you should have falsified evidence. They are wrong, and they are being stuipd, unreasonable, and cruel. They weren't there, and they didn't see what you saw.

I didn't really think I was assigning blame, I was just reporting what I saw.

You were. You told the cops what you saw, honestly and to the best of your ability.

My question is how to deal with the feelings that, had i kept my mouth shut, this girl would still be a live and the guy would probably be in jail for attempted murder or some kind of lesser plea or something.

You deal with it by telling yourself that it wasn't your fault. Because it wasn't. Based on your description, what you saw was not attempted murder. tel yourself this, every time that you think about it. Eventually, you may be able to convince your subconcious.

If you had said nothing, then there would not have been enough evidence to convict that guy of anything. Mainly because he didn't you anything that you saw that could possibly be a crime.

Further, a 'he said, she said' in a domestic violence scenario? I've seen this before, several times. No prosecutor would touch it. There would be no case.

You didn't do anything wrong. You, in fact, did everything right. There was nothing, nothing, nothing you could possibly done to save that girl from her fate.

It's not your fault. It is the fault of her murderer.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:18 AM on April 17, 2012


It sounds like this feels like a craving or a compulsion to you.

I think obsessions like this come from a "mistake feeling", like, people have to keep going back and making sure the switch is off. And then they start wondering, well, what's "off", how do I know what "off" really means.

It definitely is not the case that you made a mistake here. You just didn't. You were put on the spot and you were still able to make careful and detailed observation and recount it as a witness with all the accuracy you could muster. Not only were you not wrong, you were very very right. Furthermore, I think you actually know this.

It is not often that we do things very very right. We usually fuck up in at least one small way. So, in going over this to see if you did anything wrong, you've been genuinely unable to find anything - not because you're looking for excuses, because there's nothing wrong in your actions to be found.

And yet the outcome of the situation is very, very wrong. If learning the outcome makes you feel bad, that's because it is bad. It's a horrible story. It feels really, really bad to indirectly/partially-directly witness people treating each other that way.

So, the situation is wrong. There is a mistake in this situation. Is it me? Is it me? Is it me? Is it me? Is it me? Is it me? Is it me? [etc...]

In a way, it might feel like it could be a relief to revisit the situation - say by contacting the victim's parents - and thereby make it so that you have made a mistake. Of course you know that would be a terrible idea, and I know you won't do it, but could that be the reason why you're tempted to try it?

I don't think you believe your asshole "friends", but they're not exactly helping. They're throwing gasoline on the fire, if you ask me. At the very least they seem to have low morals. I think addicts are supposed to cut off people who tempt them to keep using, aren't they? Maybe you have some hard decisions about whether you should continue to associate with these "friends". I would not put it past some of them to just be trolling you, and I really don't know which is worse.

Because your feelings aren't rational, and you know they aren't, I'm not sure there's much you can do except use your well-honed skills in resisting temptation. Trauma counselling or asking for help from victim services might be a good idea, since, after all, you saw what could have been, and indeed turned out to be, a life-threatening incident and you do frankly and honestly sound traumatized.

If my armchair psych act doesn't make sense to you, feel free to eat this message and forget it. I don't know what I'm talking about. But, probably, victim services will know someone who does, and you'd do well to talk to them.
posted by tel3path at 5:25 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the responses so far. One thing that keeps creeping into my mind is that I should somehow try to contact her family or something, I don't know why, well I do know why, hoping they can somehow absolve me. I know that is wrong on probably every level. They are no doubt trying to move on, if they even know about the incident and how it unfolded they may hold a grudge, etc. I know its not smart and i'm not going to do it.

Don't do this! You did the right thing in that situation. It is terrible that the right thing potentially led to another bad thing happening, but you have zero responsibility for the actions of others. Don't frame it as a series of events, but instead of sort of an entropy of goodness and badness. You added goodness into the world when you told the truth.

Don't go to the family. There is nothing positive that can come from it. It cannot soothe their loss, and it cannot assuage your guilt. Don't think of it as "it's not smart", but rather "it's not a kind thing to do". You'd still feel just as bad, and they would likely feel worse.

Your guilty feelings are legitimate, I would feel the same way. But they are also incorrect: feelings don't care about the truth. They are kind of like a drug, in that they want to keep going, and will fool you into maintaining them.

And your friends are assholes.
posted by gjc at 8:13 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. I am going to do as a couple of you suggested and write the two letters and stash em in a drawer and I have contacted victim's services and have a meeting set up next week when I get back into town, I am on the road now.

My friends have taken a beating in this thread, and rightfully so I guess. They aren't bad people. The two who told me I did the wrong thing are people who have been directly effected by domestic violence so they are kind of biased I guess.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:15 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, the victim of domestic violence throws a punch or a kick in self-defense, and because they are flailing around, they can leave a bruise whereas the abuser is systematic and careful enough to hit only in places where it won't leave a bruise. Then, they can look like the guilty party. That's probably what your friends were thinking of when they advised you to perjure yourself.

This thinking is wrong, though, because you didn't see a scene like that. You saw a scene where the woman was unequivocally attacking the man. That might have been the one attack out of 10,000 that was instigated by her instead of vice versa. But you have no way of knowing that. You only know what you saw. Your obligation was to report what you saw, not conjecture about what could have been happening over the entire course of their relationship.

Heck, for all you know she could have been subjecting him to hideous abuse on a daily basis with him being a totally 100% purely innocent victim until the day he snapped with fatal results. Do I think that's a likely scenario? Hell no, I think it's about as likely as something that's really, really vanishingly unlikely. But it could have been that way. Imagine, if he'd been the victim and not the abuser, the effect on his life if you'd reported what you didn't see, instead of what you did see. You'd have been just one more person victimizing him.
posted by tel3path at 8:53 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think you would have felt much better if you'd not spoken up, and then seen on the news that he wrongly went to jail.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:53 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you have a flaw in your thinking about the issue. Could you have lied to the cops about it? I mean you were presented with the opportunity and you did not take it. OK, so rewind and play it again,but no cheating by having foreknowledge. Same you, same situation, same question. I bet the answer is still no, you would not lie. Why? Because you are who you are and given the same situation you had to do what you did in order to be who you are. I know that sounds like mumbo jumbo but by definition you are the person who does what you do. only another person could have done otherwise and you are not another person. You are you, the person who does what you do. The larger question I think is do you have any culpability? Are you at fault for not framing a guy you knew nothing about by providing false information against him to the cops. And if so would that have stopped him from committing the act that day. you would be a douche if you went around lying to the cops about random people on the off chance that one of them is a bad guy. Also there is no proof they would have done anything that would have prevented the tragedy. My sense is that is also unlikely.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 2:56 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


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