“I was almost a school shooter.”
Those were the six words that began a February 16 Facebook post from Aaron Stark, recalling a period of darkness he's never shared until now.
“I didn't carry out anything, I didn't hurt anyone,” the post continued, “But in 1996, I almost did the worst possible thing.”
It was an admission two decades in the making. He had never shared it out of fear.
But the day he decided to make it public, two days after the Parkland shooting, is significant. He and his family were watching news coverage at their home in the suburbs of Denver when his wife Becky Stark raised a question, almost rhetorically: “How could people be so mean,” Becky Stark recalled, “that someone feels they have to take things out on other people?”
“Sadly, I understand how they could get to that point,” Aaron remembered thinking.
But rather than verbally respond right there in front of the cable news discussion they had been watching on MSNBC, he retreated to the bedroom and started writing.
“I was picked on and bullied,” his post went on. “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.”
“My mental health was in sad shape, I was severely depressed and suicidal,” he wrote. “When someone has nothing to lose, they can do anything, and that thought should be terrifying.”
This all culminated during what would have been his high school years: Aaron technically was enrolled at North High School in Denver, Colorado. But aside from popping in to the occasional lesson—“I always liked choir and English so I went to those,” he said—he never attended regular classes. He just hung around the school grounds because he had nowhere else to go.
The other problem was a lack of friends, and, as he puts it in his post, a “severe lack of love.” Stark felt isolated.
“As I got older I was more and more depressed,” he said. “And I started cutting. I still have scars to this day.”
His depression and loneliness finally came to a head, and he decided he would carry out the unthinkable: shooting up a school or mall food court.
“I didn’t care which one,” he said. “It’s the most amount of damage possible in the shortest amount of time. That’s the quickest way to do it.”
Stark approached local gang members, many of whom also hung around outside North High, because he knew they’d have access to a gun. But it would take three days to get it, and in that time one of the few people in his life he might have been able to call a friend intervened in one of the smallest ways. But it was enough to change the course of his history.
“He took me to his house sat me down gave me a shower meal treated me like a human,” Aaron said. “When you treat someone like they’re a person when they don’t feel human at all, it changes their entire outlook on everything.”
Ever since then he’s believed in treating people with kindness, with love. And that’s the message he hopes to share with the world now that he’s gone public with his story. He’s booking speaking engagements, inked a book deal, spoken on national TV, and recently gave his very first TedX talk.
“I think it’s what I was meant to do,” he says of his newfound passion. “I think this is where I should have been the whole time.”
“I was a stay at home dad playing video games watching TV all day beforehand. Now I want to spend the rest of my life talking to people to get the word out,” he said.
And his message is simple.
“Embrace the person who you think deserves it the least. The person you think deserves the least amount of love, you should give them the most love because they deserve it the most. And it’ll help you as much as it’ll help them,” Stark said.
His wife Becky says that now the “world gets to see what I see everyday.”
Stark's daughter Katie shares that sentiment and adds that the revelation about her father only strengthened the connection the two already shared.
“I see him as the same person I saw him as two or 3 years ago: my best friend and someone I look up to,” Katie said, and regarding his newfound passion to share his story added “he can change the world.”