Everyone Has a Story
In the early morning of Friday, November 11, 2015, 38-year-old Christopher Michael Ellis was arrested on charges of first-degree murder in the death of his 67-year-old mother, Elizabeth. Reports indicate that, when police arrived, Ellis was pacing in his mother’s backyard, rambling erratically and making cut-throating gestures with his bloody hands. After a brief skirmish, Ellis was taken into custody without incident. Reports on the attack (at the time of this writing) indicate that Elizabeth was killed by blunt force trauma from the impact of a hammer to her skull.
The cold truth is that this is not the kind of story that shocks the world anymore. Perhaps twenty, maybe thirty years ago, yes. But today? It just doesn’t hold the interest of the public, and the saddest part is because we are desensitized to such violence.
I am no different; I glazed over the story as I read it on my smartphone, all the while talking to my wife about our plans for the holidays. I was about to move on to the next “important” thing in my life, be that my fantasy football team or paying some bills online…. But then I saw something in the headlines of the story that made me stop and take a harder look:
“…..A 38-year-old Stafford County man is accused of killing his mother with a hammer early Friday at their home in southern Stafford, authorities said…..”
This happened in Stafford, Virginia, the home of my youth. It was a wonderful place to be an adolescent, and become a young man. It has grown a little too big for my taste, but I still enjoy going back on occasion and reminiscing of those days. The people never change, they just bring more people in from other places, and those people quickly learn the culture that makes Stafford, Virginia such a special place. Like a weary traveler finding a warm shelter, that shelter is Stafford. “Come stay here, stay as long as you like, you’re welcome in our home.” If the traveler ever leaves, he does so with regret. If he chooses to stay, he’ll be the first at the door to welcome the next weary traveler. Things like this didn’t happen in Stafford, or so I thought.
At this point, I was engrossed in the article. As I read on, it occurred to me. I know this man. I know his name. Christopher Michael Ellis. The cobwebs of memories long ago were quickly replaced with memories of…. I was remembering…. High School. Stafford Senior High School. Chris Ellis was a friend from high school. Not only was he a friend, he was a good friend. He was my teammate on our track and field team, a fellow long distance runner. Hell, we were part of the first relay team to qualify for the state championship in Stafford High School history. Of course I know him! Or I thought I knew him, at least….
Almost frantically, I sought out his picture online. There he was, Chris Ellis. The same person, obviously a bit older, but his features still easily recognizable to me even after more than twenty years. Chris Ellis, track teammate, Stafford Senior High School, Class of 1995. I just couldn’t believe that this was the same man who brutally murdered his mother, a 67-year-old woman. A woman who spent her entire professional life teaching at the local middle school, and volunteering at the city library. This was not the friend I remember; this was not the same person. He may have lived that life, the one that I remember, but the man in the photo I was seeing was not the same person who I knew so well growing up.
I was two years ahead of Chris in school; I was a senior and he a sophomore. We knew each other through our time on the track and in cross-country, as we were both long distance runners. When you are fed into the Stafford High School long distance training grinder, you find yourself running and training hours after the school has closed and the faculty has all gone home. The cost to be the best, the fastest, was painful, as it meant long hours running with only your teammates even as the sun set. Suffering is an excellent way to build esprit de corps, as military training programs have mastered this technique over hundreds of years. Our corps of runners were no different; we developed strong bonds that lasted long after we graduated. Chris was part of that nucleus, that family.
Chris was a great runner, but even more impressive was his brilliant mind. I marveled at how he grasped the most difficult courses with ease, and to do so a full two years younger than I was. He was not introverted, but rather outgoing, gregarious and insightful. His humor was typically high brow, but he certainly had his fun cutting up too. His biggest hindrance was his age, as most of the fellas on our team were juniors or seniors and he was just a sophomore. Nevertheless, Chris was always welcome into the circle and loved.
But that person is no more. Where there once was a young man with limitless physical and mental potential has since been replaced with a man who is proven to be capable of murdering his own mother.
I don’t know what drove Chris to such evil, but I have some ideas. I’m going to take a guess that Chris began developing conditions of instability into his young adulthood and became withdrawn and introverted. I will also guess that he had major life changing events suddenly happen for the worse, or he was pushed to a breaking point. Again, I am going off of the indicators that I have studied and that I train people in today to recognize.
During that training, I always open up the floor to the audience about any personal experiences that they may want to share. I find that people want to talk about someone they knew in their lives, someone they just “knew” had an issue and didn’t know what to do about it. That is part of what NAPS does, we help people identify these conditions so that when they see indicators of concern in people, they will feel empowered to do something for the positive and get that person help. By opening up the discussions in my course, one thing I know is that “everyone has a story”, as I like to say.
Now, because of Chris Ellis, I have a story too.
Jason Wells is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, Inc., an educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes. He is a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, and holds a Masters of Science with highest honors in Strategic Security and Protection Management. Mr. Wells is currently pursuing his doctorate in Strategic Security with a focus on proactive interventions to stop threat-related behavior. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org