Thomas Wictor

What if YOU were the murder victim?

What if YOU were the murder victim?

Today Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013. People on Twitter told me that they oppose the death penalty because it’s immoral. Opposition to the death penalty is perfectly legitimate for a variety of reasons, but if you think capital punishment is immoral, then that means you think the people who support it are also immoral. What you need to say is that your own personal moral code prevents you from supporting the death penalty. I wonder how you’d feel about it if you survived a murder attempt or witnessed murders being committed? Both are experiences that most people can’t imagine. You really had to have been there.

I’ve written about the murder attempt that my brother Tim and I survived on December 28, 1995. It changed me forever, and not for the better.

What it feels like to be murdered

Ghosts and Ballyhoo, pages 84-86

Tim said, “Oh,” a small sound of total comprehension; he knew exactly what was happening, and suddenly I did, too. It set off a delirious babble in my head: There he is. I knew you’d come. Here we go. He’s here. This is it.

The man pointed the gun at my face. He looked two-dimensional in the orange light, like a cardboard cutout outlined in black Magic Marker. There was an aura of squiggly lines radiating outward from his body like heat waves, some kind of visual distortion caused by the thirty gallons of adrenaline dumped into my system.


The darkness intensified until all I could see was the gun aimed at my right eye, the muzzle less than two feet away, a ring of bright metal around a black hole.

I went completely deaf, but I could also hear a strange cacophony, almost like a Tibetan religious ceremony, with gongs and horns.

Everything around me seemed to have been sucked away, leaving me in a vacuum. At the same time, there was a tremendous sense of imminence, as if the air itself were about to burst wide open. The circus, my mind gibbered. Ferris wheel. Boston Pops. Happy New Year. God save me. Orson Welles. Nazi bastards. Christmas lights. Pinwheels.

I heard “You are going to die” as clearly as if someone had spoken it aloud, and then my body took over. Without conscious thought, I turned and ran, dropping my books. Deep inside my head, in an isolated bubble of calm, a countdown started.


I glanced back over my shoulder. The man in black ran after me, still pointing the gun.


I ran so fast that the wind whooshed past my ears. I seemed to cover twenty feet with each stride. The world tilted as I leaned to the left, sprinting around the back of my boss’s van. I’m a motorcycle, I thought. Zoooooom. I wasn’t moving fast enough, though. I wasn’t moving at all. The sound of my shoes hitting the asphalt was a dainty chip, chip, chip, chip in the whooshing but somehow dead air. Directly behind me, I felt a gathering, an expanding force catching up to me. The Tibetan music turned into an orchestral swelling like in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

I knew that it was the sound of my life ending. I had only seconds to live.


High above me in the cloudy sky, from somewhere off to the right, I heard someone wailing. It was a shrill, hopeless, pleading screech that echoed across the empty parking lot. That’s me, I realized. I’m screaming because I’m being murdered. Another part of my brain spoke up, inventorying my surroundings as they flew by like stark Polaroid images: Burnt-out street lamp. Store front. Stars. Clouds. Tree. Goodbye, street lamp. Goodbye, clouds. Goodbye, tree.

When the countdown reached One, the gunman would shoot me in the back of the head. I knew it with complete certainty. I’d see teeth, bone fragments, and pieces of my brain spray out in front of me. I’d feel it, too. It would feel like water up my nose and an electric shock, but it would also be cold and crunchy. It would be pulpy and probing and intimate. That was the amazing thing about being murdered: It was so intimate, much more intimate than sex. And sad. I was incredibly sad that my death was going to be so ugly.


On the back of my head, directly above the nape of my neck, a dot of supersensitive nerve endings awoke in preparation for the bullet. All the sensation in my body concentrated into that tiny disk of skin. The slug would pass through my head so quickly that I’d still be alive as I flopped across the asphalt, my skull mostly empty, the cool night air burning into the rawness. I’d feel the pebbles gouging my palms, my knees, and my cheek, and then I’d be gone. It was just about to happen. Lab rat! Marshmallow pie! I love you, Carmen! Sapphire! Golden rod! Welder’s fees! Samsonite! Here I go! Here I go! Here I go!

Overhead, an airliner swooped in toward Los Angeles International Airport. The passengers were safe, unaware of what was happening to me. I was being murdered right under their feet, right under their big, fat, safe asses, and they didn’t even know. They’d all get to live. I hated their guts and wanted the plane to explode into a ball of flame.


I closed my eyes. Nothing. You didn’t why there’s no teeth alive what

The gunman hadn’t shot me. Some kind of emergency time-expansion had come into play, because I had all those thoughts during the two seconds it took to circle my boss’s van. When I came around the front of it, I caught a glimpse of my brother in midair, leaping like Mikhail Baryshnikov over a pile of books. He plowed into me, the top of his head breaking my nose and sending my glasses flying.

* * *

Almost ten years of post-traumatic flashbacks followed. On several occasions I ran into the middle of the street, jumped into bushes, or shoved my way out of a store when I saw a young man in dark clothing walk toward me with a certain bouncy aggressiveness, or when I heard a high-pitched voice raised in challenge. These weren’t conscious decisions to run: My body did it on its own. I couldn’t control it.

Our society puts all its focus on murderers. We treat murder victims as people who simply disappeared.

What they went through is swept under the rug. That’s very wrong.

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