• Maria Sestito

Where does the violence begin? How does it end?

Covering this trial was one of the highlights of my career. I remember everyone involved commenting on how fair the coverage was, how true to the hearings it was. It was the first time in my career, I really had a chance to focus on one thing -- the same thing every day for a month. It was thrilling and I was at home in the familiar scene of a county courthouse.

I even won a writing award for one of the stories that came out of it.

People, readers and friends, asked me how I could write without crying, how I could hear testimony and see autopsy photos without it bothering me. At the time, my goal was to do my job, to be fair and withhold judgement. It felt like I was the only one in the audience withholding judgement, but I did.

Now, though, being at a place in life where I can imagine having a child, the memories of gruesome photos of Kayleigh's body do come back to me. They live forever in my brain and I wonder what will happen if and when I actually do have children -- how often I will think of Kayleigh if I have a little girl.

For years, I tried to pretend that I wasn't affected by the violence around me, the pain. But I have been. It all stays with me. Faces stay with me.

But, as terrible as Kayleigh's fate was, I still withhold my judgement. That's never been my job. And everything is always more complicated than it seems.

Who has the responsibility of protecting children? Parents? Grandparents? Neighbors? Police?

And who was there to protect those first victims? How many years ago, decades and generations ago, did the abuse begin? Who should have helped when lost children sought relief from drugs? Who should have been there when they were tempted to start again? Who is responsible for making those drugs and passing them into the hands of the vulnerable?

Is it really just one or two people we're talking about? Their sentence means very little to me, but, as a survivor of an abusive household, I know that the abuse didn't start with my parents. It was already there -- in the family, in the town, in the school and in society.

And, from the little I know of this life, drug abuse so often is a symptom of something else -- a way to escape the pain of an abusive or neglectful upbringing, or a seemingly uncontrollable mental health disorder.

Then is Child Protective Services to blame? How about our healthcare system? Or, if you think that these things are the responsibility of local churches and nonprofits, was it God who failed? Money that went to the wrong cause?

The need to be kind to one another, the need to be generous with our words, our time, our affection and appreciation is so great. It is greater than politics. It is a need that is at the core of humanity's survival -- if we cannot be kind to our neighbors, our leaders, our friends and lovers, how can we expect to be kind to our children?

How can we be surprised by violence still?

How am I still shocked by violence? Why do I still have trouble reconciling how the people I love are the same ones who hurt me? They're the same ones who, on the surface, seem like "good enough" people. How can anyone who hurts a child be a "good" person?

They're not. Maybe they're not good, but they're not bad either. They're hurt. And they're stuck.

What is the solution to all this violence? To all this pain? If "hurt people, hurt people," then maybe healed people can heal people.

For the sake of everyone we love and -- maybe even more so -- those we sometimes hate, please let the healing begin.

Make it so we don't need journalists to cover these kinds of cases anymore. If you want to see fewer negative stories in the news, then we need to stop allowing violence to continue. We all need to be accountable, to welcome that accountability, and hold one another to it. We are not perfect, but we can at least try to do better, to be better -- like our lives depend on it because, often, they do.

Written Jan. 21, 2021 as a Facebook post in response to this Napa Valley Register article.

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