Some call it the “Milwaukee Massacre”. Others refer to it as the “bloodiest” or “most horrific” crime scene in recent history. What they are referring to is the murder of Charlie Young Jr. of Milwaukee, WI in late September of 2002.
Charlie Young was walking down the street when a 14-year-old boy encouraged a 10-year-old boy to throw an egg at Young. After being hit in the shoulder with the egg, Young grabbed the 14-year-old and punched him in the mouth, knocking out one of his teeth.
Another boy rushed in and hit Young over the head with a baby stroller and the fight was on. More than a dozen boys joined the melee, chasing Young down the street, eventually cornering him on a porch where they beat him with shovels, rakes, brooms, baseball bats and anything else they could get their hands on.
A few days later Charlie Young Jr. succumbed to his injuries and passed away in the hospital.
What does the family of Charlie Young Jr. of Milwaukee, WI see in all of this? A chance to stop someone else’s pain, a chance to help another walk and even a chance to save lives.
It never ceases to completely amaze me when I hear of families that, when faced with the sudden and unexpected death of their loved one especially due to heinous acts and horrific crimes, immediately choose to donate their loved ones’ eyes, tissues and organs.
Charlie’s family has suffered an unbelievable and agonizing loss. After having Charlie taken from them, though, the first thing that they think of is how to give even more. Faced with the gruesome details of a painful and horrific death caused by the carelessness, callousness and complete selfishness of their neighbors they turn around and offer their loved one’s life saving gifts to those around them, perhaps even to those same neighbors that caused the pain and suffering that they will endure for the rest of their lives.
As I think about the loss, the grief and the sorrow that Charlie’s family must be feeling and then think of how they chose to donate it truly takes my breath away. This is, in my book, the definition of ‘hero’ and the seed that lies at the very heart of humanity and of love.
The newspapers, television news personalities and elected officials will be talking about Charlie’s death for some time to come.
Some politicians will try to use Charlie’s murder as evidence of the need for “youth activities”. Others will use his death as a ‘case in point’ of the decline in two-parent homes and parenting skills. The police will use Charlie to show how an understaffed and under funded agency fails those it is supposed to protect as the mayor tries to pass it off as ‘just another incident’. Some in the neighborhood will see it as a ‘call to action’ while others will find it just one more reason to bury themselves deeper in their homes.
Yet amid all this political and well-publicized hype, Charlie’s family will only see sorrow and grief and loss. No amount of special funding, increased police involvement, increased neighborhood awareness, neighborhood center involvement, speeches or monologues by the talking heads will bring him back. Despite hearing the “answers” given by everyone around them they’ll only have questions, especially “why”. Why Charlie, why then and why that way.
But because of their selfless act and Charlie’s gifts someone else will finally have an answer – an answer to their prayers. Charlie’s gifts may help a young girl walk again, a middle aged man to perhaps feel the beat of a strong heart once more and an elderly woman may get her wish of having just a few more precious years to spend with her family.
To Charlie’s family: From out of the ashes of death and despair rises a rose made with the beauty of new life, seen by new eyes and scented with hope renewed. Don’t forget this rose. Your journey through the grief of Charlie’s death will be long and can seem like too much to bear. At those moments, though, just remember the lives Charlie has saved and the lives he’s made better by your choice to donate his precious gifts. He will live on forever as a hero in their eyes and in mine.