James Ferragut, Published June 28 2009
Ferragut: Shooting of teenager generates questionsThat the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo metro population is more than 200,000 still belies the fact that we are a close-knit community. Last weekend, an intruder, a teenage boy, was shot at point-blank range by a homeowner exercising his constitutional right to defend his home and property. The boy died.
The story dominated local media coverage, including this newspaper, television, radio stations and the blogosphere . If this were Dallas, Miami, LA, Chicago, New York or any major market, the story would have been relegated to a one column, 4-inch story buried on Page 18 in the “Metro” section.
But not here. Not in Fargo. The flood of 2009 proved to us again that we are a community that is connected, concerned, involved. A killing in our world is a rare event, and the killing of a teenager takes us to yet another level. The talk around work and in neighborhoods is about the shooting, with the common question: “What would you have done?”
Any answer is speculation. You will never know how you would react until face-to-face with an intruder (maybe with wife and kids safely asleep only feet away). An intrusion is an immediate call to self-protective instincts, an alert to danger, fueled by adrenalin, fear or aggression.
I don’t own a gun. I’m not a National Rifle Association member. I believe in the right to protect my family in my own home, using any means necessary. I don’t know what I’d have done if I were in Vernon Allen’s shoes. Evidence suggests 17-year-old Joel LaFromboise was stoned, drunk or in some way impaired. Yes, he was an intruder and, yes, he was told to leave the premises more than once, and, yes, he grabbed the barrel of the gun that was pointed at him.
But, was he so aggressive he should have been shot at close range? Were there other self-defense options? With his hand on the barrel of the shotgun, could Joel have been overpowered and subdued with a swift cross-strike from the butt of the rifle? Could there have been a warning shot, or a shot to shoulder or arm that wasn’t lethal?
We’re not going to know the answers. Speculating won’t help. But the killing of LaFramboise raises questions: Is the level of fear so high in our community that when an intruder enters a home, instinct overwhelms reason? Does the culture’s obsession with violence on television, film and video games desensitize us to where a “kill” is merely a “kill” with no emotion or repercussions? I don’t think so.
Hundreds of people, from family and friends to educators and employers on all sides of this tragedy, have been hurt and scarred. But in spite of the city’s growing size, Fargo is still a small community that cares when something tragic happens.
We don’t bury the killing of one of us in an obscure part of the newspaper. We don’t allow a tragedy of this magnitude to go unnoticed; we are affected by its aftermath. Our community lost a teenager. A man who was protecting his life and property will never be the same. We recognize that; and it hurts us all.
Ferragut is a bank vice president for marketing and a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages.