Tragedy worse when manipulated

It was early in my sophomore year of high school. I wasn’t driving yet, but other classmates were. The whispers in first-period geometry were that fellow sophomore “Tiffany” hit a kid who ran in front of her car the previous night.

The kid was OK, but Tiffany was visibly shaken. A few days later, I caught Tiffany in a free moment. She said she was coping that morning … until school officials with good intentions interrupted her class and pulled her into the hallway to ask how she was doing. Tiffany needed no reminder, and would have preferred some discretion.

A year-and-a-half later the class ahead of us graduated. Senior parents sponsored an all-night party. One of the students fell asleep at the wheel on the drive home, and died when his truck veered off the road.

When our senior year began, the principal (same one, still with good intentions) put us in the multi-purpose room with the freshman class, and warned against hazing freshmen by reminding us of our classmate’s death. We were livid — not just because the classmate’s little sister was in the room, but we also felt tragedy was manipulated.

Both events weighed on my mind as a community remembered Xavier Salcido.

On Sept. 19, 2010, Xavier was struck by a car on Cameo Street. First responders did what they could, but the 4-year-old didn’t survive. Police ruled it an unavoidable accident, and no charges were filed. We mentioned those facts, and the driver’s name, in a brief about an anniversary candlelight vigil set for Monday.

We’ve been in touch with Xavier’s family, who thanked us for vigil coverage. We’ve also talked to the driver’s family, who asked we not reprint the name on future news items. They told us of a relative still mourning, no matter how often, “Unavoidable,” is said.

They told us of threatening phone calls, and showed us an anonymous “anniversary” card with details about Xavier’s death inside. I was back in that high school multi-purpose room, disgusted about a tragedy manipulated.

Tragedy can be used for good. My friend never passes up an opportunity to tell his children that he lost his best friends to a drunken driving accident. Maybe someday they’ll be a designated driver, or just call Dad when they’ve been drinking.

But manipulation amplifies tragedy, whether from my principal back then or anonymous letter-writers and callers now. It’s doubly shameful when it’s at the expense of the 2010 driver who experts said couldn’t avoid the accident. A driver who remembers Sept. 19 without help, just like Tiffany still remembers her accident.

I felt compassion Monday night, as family and friends prayed, sang, cried and laughed as they told us how Xavier loved popcorn chicken and curly fries and hated losing at video games. But I couldn’t shake the thought that the person who sent that card, or a person who made a threatening phone call, was out there too.

To those people, feel whatever you must for Xavier and his family. But remember that character is who you are when nobody is watching. Character is reflected in the card you sent and in the phone call you made.

Words can’t summarize the tragedy that surrounds Xavier’s short life. Some of that tragedy is still avoidable.