He was 14 years old, a high school freshman, a word that misleads because there was no man in this child yet. Emilio Hoffman was in the process of growing up, testing the waters, only a year out of eighth grade.
He was a boy still.
He played soccer on the junior varsity team at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore. He volunteered at Total Futbal Academy Barcelona-Oregon, coaching little kids. He loved his mother, Jennifer, whom he proudly praised on his Facebook page.
“I am so thankful to have my mom. She’s one of the most important people in my life. She (sic) beautiful, kind, and caring. She has always been there for me no matter what. She does so much for me and doesn’t expect anything in return! I have the best mom ever. I love you momma bear!”
And he loved his girlfriend, too, Alyssa Karm, a pretty girl with braces on her teeth. He posted their status on May 24: “In a relationship.”
Seventeen days later, this child was murdered. According to Troutdale’s Police Chief Scott Anderson, a fellow classmate armed with an AR-15-type rifle, a semiautomatic handgun, a large knife, and nine loaded ammunition magazines capable of holding several hundred rounds, shot Hoffman in the locker room of their school.
It was, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, at least the 74th incident of gunfire on a US school campus since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
Last weekend I saw “The Fault in Our Stars,” a love story about two young people who are living with and dying from cancer. It’s based on the best-selling book by John Green, who modeled the main character, Hazel Grace, on a real-life 16-year-old Quincy girl, Esther Earl.
The movie is heartbreaking and breaking all kinds of attendance records, not only because it’s beautiful and the acting is excellent and you care about the characters, but also because cancer is a major character.
And we know this character well.
Guns are a major character in people’s lives, too. Rifles, pistols, handguns, Glocks, Remingtons. They make people just as dead as cancer. And yet Americans en masse are not demanding that things change.
Twelve hours after Emilio Hoffman was murdered, there was a candlelight vigil for him. Several hundred people, including Hoffman’s family and Oregon’s governor, met and cried and clutched candles and sang “Amazing Grace.”
This is what we do when a child is shot to death. We hold hands, raise our eyes to the heavens, and say a silent prayer that this never happens to our children.
We were not this meek when it came to standing up to the tobacco industry and making it accountable for some kinds of cancer. In this country today, cigarettes are a cultural pariah after being considered cool for decades, only because enough people got sick and tired of watching someone they loved die. So passionate people organized and formed groups and wrote letters that demanded that Hollywood stop promoting smoking, that TV stop advertising cigarettes, and that tobacco companies stop giving samples away.
I learned last week that an Oklahoma inventor working with a company called ProTecht LLC has developed a bulletproof BodyGuard Blanket for kids to put on as part of their “lockdown protocol” at school. The company says it tested the bright orange blanket against a 12-gauge buckshot, a .22-caliber, and a 9-mm, and it works. The blankets cost $1,000 each, “and are meant to be stored in a classroom so kids can lock the door and put them on quickly.”
Is this the future?
On Nov. 21, a week before Emilio Hoffman’s last Thanksgiving, he posted on his Facebook page: “Everything happens for a reason, but what is the reasoning for this?” He seemed to be referring to a break-up.
Now the question looms bigger. Because there is no meaning to be found in this boy’s brutal death. He died solely because a 15-year-old kid was able to get his hands on an assault rifle, a handgun, and ammunition, hide them in a guitar case and take them to school.