The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Teen who showed up in operating room with scalpel had idolized doctors all his life

Oops, different teen! (Sean Krajacic/AP)

The important thing to remember about the decisions that left two people dead and a lot of other people holding loose kidneys with expressions of abject horror is that the teenager who showed up in the operating room with a scalpel he had brought from home was a big fan of doctors and thought that he would be able to help.

What ensued was very sad. Obviously it was sad. If this teen had not been there, it does seem that, at minimum, he would not personally have stabbed anyone. It is possible that some people who are not alive now would still be alive. But it is also possible that they would have perished in unrelated accidents! We can never truly know, so the important thing to keep in mind is what he meant to do: maybe not that.

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Wouldn’t we all have done the same in his position, with our father on the operating table? Well, not literally his father — in fact, not someone he knew personally at all. But if there were not some kind of relationship there, just sort of showing up with a weapon and thinking you would be able to help would be even more bizarre and terrifying. Which this, of course, was not! Because, again, he was a big fan of doctors and always dreamed of being one someday. This makes his presence understandable, and we can’t possibly pass judgment on him for what happened (multiple stabbings).

When he was younger he watched Doc McStuffins all the time, and he has described it as “formative” to anyone who will listen. He played Operation frequently as a boy, and the nose would light up almost never. That two people are now dead as a result of his actions is tragic, but the real tragedy would be if people were discouraged from showing up to operating theaters with scalpels and full hearts and a can-do attitude and zero medical degrees. He was merely trying to be a doctor, which is something you can do simply by showing up with equipment you brought from home. And sometimes doctors kill people, too, so in that sense he was already living his dream!

(No, this is not an unprecedented change in how we describe people who have killed other people, a benefit of the doubt we’re going to be extending to everyone from now on. This is just a one-time special, because this young man with a scalpel was White.)

Yes, this boy just wanted people to be safer, and although the consequence of his actions was the exact opposite of that, consequences are not what count, at least not in this case. We won’t even say that it was regrettable he was there and that we wish he hadn’t been. We’re instead going to praise him for what he thought he was doing.

A teenager showed up with weapons and made a situation worse, but the important thing is that he says he meant well. That’s what matters: He thought he was helping.