03/20/07 — A tragic story: There is lesson to be learned from night of bad decisions

View Archive

A tragic story: There is lesson to be learned from night of bad decisions

It only takes a moment to change a life forever — or to take one.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how well-behaved you have been until that moment. When you make a dangerous decision, it can end in tragedy and heartbreak.

And that is message behind the story of Tim Alston.

No matter what you might think of him or the reports from the day that ended in the death of his friend and fellow Charles B. Aycock High School classmate John Paul Setliff, there is no denying that this is the beginning of a very long road for the 18-year-old.

And then there is John Paul Setliff’s family. They will be forever haunted by their loss and how easily their teen-age son’s death could have been prevented. They will remember him every time his birthday passes and wonder what might have been. There is no rest for them either.

That is the price that is paid for a tragedy of this magnitude. It changes lives forever.

And all this heartache and regret cannot be erased by an apology or a trip back in time. That is the sad fact about bad decisions — you cannot undo them no matter how much you wish you could.

And it seems like there are many, many people who wish they could go back to the minutes before Tim Alston decided to take his grandfather’s gun.

As teenagers, and even sometimes as young adults, we think we are invincible and that the terrible consequences that happen to others will somehow miss us.

We take risks. We ignore our parents’ warnings, and we make decisions that later on we realize were not just stupid, but dangerous.

It is only with maturity and experiences of our own that we understand just how close we came to a different end to our story of irresponsibility. It could happen to anyone, no matter where they grew up or how many times before that moment they made the responsible choice.

There is a lesson to be learned from this story — and from many others with similar themes. There are hundreds of parents across North Carolina who are mourning the untimely death of a teenager because of a moment’s mistake.

There are no winners in the Alston case. This is a tragedy that will be felt forever by many families.

But if the story makes even one teenager think a moment longer or stop friends from making a bad choice, there will be a greater purpose served — and a young man will be remembered not because of how he died, but because of the lives his story saved.

That should be John Paul Setliff’s legacy, and Tim Alston’s new mission.

Published in Editorials on March 20, 2007 1:35 PM