It is not the typical holiday-season letter, although it is partly about giving. And it includes a request. But mostly, it is about the pain of having something someone -- taken from you. I wish the situation was unique to this teenage girl and the brother that she lost. But on our imperfect planet, the sort of tragedy that should be unheard of instead is too often felt.
Victoria Costner recently sat down and wrote a letter to Ernesto Arechavaleta-Taureaux. Victoria is 15, willowy and whisper-quiet, with dark eyes that absorb the world around her. The letter was hard for her to write. She wants a seemingly heartless man to know why he put a hole in her heart, in hope that he will say something to help her fill it.
It is nearly two years since Arechavaleta-Taureaux, a dishwasher at the downtown restaurant Merge, for no apparent reason pulled a gun and -- authorities say -- shot co-workers Ricky Costner Sr. and Ricky Costner Jr., Victoria's father and 18-year-old brother. The elder Costner lived. Ricky Jr., a sous chef, was not as lucky. Arechavaleta-Taureaux, arrested at the scene, is in a psychiatric hospital until he is judged competent to stand trial.
The tragedy did not end with Ricky Jr.'s death. Victoria wants her brother's presumed killer to know that:
What upset you to the point where you thought is was okay to pull out your gun and start shooting at my family? My brother didn't deserve to die, he had plans. He wanted to have a son, he wanted to follow in my father's footsteps and to invest in real estate. He never hurt anyone or did bad things Out of spite you had for someone else, you took his life, you stole the only brother I ever had.
Arechavaleta-Taureaux was described by acquaintances as cold and distant. Oddly, he wore a suit and a fedora to his dishwashing job. Ricky Jr., who enjoyed working out, admired Arechavaleta-Taureaux's bodybuilder physique and tried to befriend his eventual killer.
Violence haunts its survivors, twists their thinking. Victoria had nothing to do with what happened. Yet, in the letter, she asks herself if she could have done something -- and says her father blames himself.
Everything's changed, I can barely laugh or smile without feeling sorry. I feel like you have no remorse, but maybe I am wrong. All I ever think about is what I could have done to change the past -- whether or not I could have calmed you down, changed your mind.
Do you wake up in the morning feeling sorry for us, or yourself, or do you really even care? Because I wake up every morning thinking about my brother, passing his room every day thinking he's going to walk through the door My father thinks what happened is all his fault, because a father is supposed to protect his child.
I sat down this week with Victoria and her parents, Ricky Sr. and Catalina, at their Elmwood Village home. Victoria told me that hearing from Arechavaleta-Taureaux, receiving a sign of regret, might help to ease her pain. I do not know whether this man is capable of it.
There is a larger picture here than one grieving family. I think Victoria's letter serves as a message to anyone who thinks that violence solves anything.
A single bullet claims many victims. There have been 34 homicides in Buffalo this year. For every person who is killed or damaged, many other lives are shattered. A father, a mother, a sister, a brother -- each is damaged by the loss. If reading this makes even one person think twice about grabbing a gun or picking up a knife, then Victoria Costner did not write in vain.
One man's alleged act ended Ricky Costner Jr.'s life, shattered his parents and put a hole in his sister's heart. Victoria waits and wonders if anything will ever fill it.