Back on April 14th, I wrote about rejoicing in the first bike ride of the season.
If you didn’t click on the link to that post, please do so. I only ask that you go look at the photo. Pay attention to where I am standing and the Trestle Trail bridge behind me. I’ll wait.
I remember that day, when my biking buddy commented about how wonderful it was to see so many people out on the trail and in the park. It was a sure sign of spring and better weather. It made her happy.
This past Sunday, at 7:30 pm, the Fox Valley area was shook to the core by a lone gunman, Sergio Valencia del Toro. This gunman and his fiance called off their wedding a week prior. After an argument between the two on Sunday, Valencia del Toro left their residence wearing camouflage, with two handguns in his possession. He then rode his bicycle to the Trestle Trail and began firing at innocent victims, killing a male bystander, Adam Bentdahl. Adam was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The gunman also ended the life of a father, Jonathan Stoffel, and his eleven year old daughter, Olivia, before turning the gun on himself. The wife and mother, Erin Stoffel, was shot three times while trying to get her two younger children to safety. She has survived and is awake, but unable to speak. Erin is using a dry erase board to communicate.
Jonathan Stoffel’s sister-in-law was with Erin on Monday evening. Erin wrote on the board these words, “Last words. Jon said, ‘Forgive the shooter.’”
When many in the community were asking why?, a dying man spoke the words forgive the shooter. Mr. Stoffel was a man of deep faith, involved in his church and community, asking his wife not to hate or be angry at his killer. I did not know Mr. Stoffel or his family, but they are a glaring example of how one walks in faith and humanity.
The Trestle Trail bridge is a popular walking trail in the area. On one end of the bridge is Fritse Park, a place where one can launch a boat, cook bratwurst on the grill, or watch children play on the swings and slide. On the trail itself, you will find walkers, bicyclists, and families out for a stroll. There is even an area where people can fish off the side of the bridge. On any given weekend with good weather, I would estimate that the bridge is crossed hundreds of time. I have crossed the bridge many times, as it is within walking distance of my office. In fact, I went for a walk on the trail last week during lunch.
Even though the Stoffel family, and perhaps Adam’s family, chooses to forgive Valencia del Toro, I continue to ask why? Why did this gunman get so angry that he felt a need to kill innocent people? Why did he choose the bridge? Why didn’t he seek professional help instead? Why do these random acts of violence continue to occur in this country?
One of the TV reporters stated that the Fox Valley has “lost its innocence.” I don’t know that we’ve lost our innocence as much as we’ve awoken to reality. We have seen random acts of violence before on TV. In other cities, in other states. The reality is that a random act of violence can happen anywhere, when it’s least expected. It just showed up in the Fox Valley on Sunday.
I expect additional details to come out about the shooting, but for now I ask that you keep the victims, families of the victims and Erin Stoffel and her two children in your thoughts and prayers. It’s going to be a long road of grieving and healing and forgiving for all of them.