By Sarah Gray
February 20, 2018
TIME Health
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“I was almost a school shooter,” Aaron Stark wrote in a letter to Denver’s local station 9 News. “I am not a school shooter because I didn’t have access to guns.”

The letter, which was printed in full by the station’s show Next with Kyle Clark, goes on to discuss Stark’s violent childhood, his struggles with mental health, access to guns, love and why he eventually did not end up committing violence in 1996.

Last Wednesday, a 19-year-old man allegedly shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Stark says he wrote the letter because his wife and daughter said they couldn’t understand why the alleged shooter lashed out like he did. “Sadly, I can,” Stark wrote. “This is a hard conversation to have, but we must have it.”

On Tuesday, Stark took his message to national television, where he explained in an emotional interview to MSNBC’s Katy Tur why he wrote the letter and what he thinks can be done to stop school shootings.

“I think we really need to have a hard look at the effect that guns have,” Stark said. “Do we really need to have assault weapons? Do we really need to have people being able to go buy an AR-15 when they’re not able to even buy a pistol because they won’t pass the background checks?”

“But the thing about my post was, it’s more than just guns,” Stark continued. “It’s a multifaceted issue. And if you focus on just the guns, then you’ll ignore the rest — but if you focus on just the mental health, then you’ll have missed the gun part.”

Stark believes society should focus on love and reaching out to kids who feel like they have nothing to lose, like he felt back in 1996. While he was a teen, Stark says he was alternately homicidal and suicidal. And in addition to the assault weapons ban (which was in place from 1994 to 2004) several acts of kindness stopped him from committing violent acts.

In one such instance, Stark says he was was planning on killing himself when a friend, who baked him a pie and threw him a gathering, saved his life.

“I wasn’t going to survive that night if that hadn’t happened,” Stark told Tur. “People reach out and sometimes they don’t even know the effect they’re going to have. A kind word, a hug, saying ‘Hey how are you, do you want to come have food with me? Come watch a movie?’ could literally save someone’s life.”

Stark’s full letter is posted below:

“I was almost a school shooter.

I didn’t carry out anything, I didn’t hurt anyone. But in 1996, I almost did the worst possible thing.

I was very much the outcast in high school. I had a very chaotic and violent childhood, moving from place to place, having the people I was closest to be the ones who hurt me most. I was shy, and sensitive, and smelled bad because I either had dirty clothes on that had not been washed in weeks or because I was filthy from not having a shower also for weeks at a time. I was picked on and bullied. For being fat. For being smart. For not playing sports. 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.

I say all of this not to shock, or to upset people, or to say I agree at all with this evil. I say this to show that the problem is hard.

People say mental health is the issue. And that’s true. My mental health was in sad shape, I was severely depressed and suicidal, I felt like I had nothing at all in life to look forward to and so I literally had nothing to lose. When someone has nothing to lose, they can do anything, and that thought should be terrifying. So yes, mental health was an issue.

A bigger issue was love. I had a severe lack of love, and I really think this kid did too.

Some people blame this violence on the media, or video games, or music. We call those people morons.

But there is one thing that would have made it all different. One thing, that if it was in the equation, would have ended up in terror.

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.

I have come a long way in the 25 years or so since this all was happening. I have grown as a person, becoming a father and family man. I most definitely have things to live for and to lose. I still have battled depression over the years, but I have a much easier time winning that fight.

If you see someone who looks like they need love, give it to them. Even a small hug, a word, or a smile could actually save lives. Compassion is the only real way we can stop this. Love people even when they don’t deserve it.

‘Love is all we need’ – John Lennon

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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