LAWRENCE: Some background on background checksEven 11 years later, I can’t help but wonder what thoughts Chet and Carol Hope had as their troubled son approached them for the final time.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Even 11 years later, I can’t help but wonder what thoughts Chet and Carol Hope had as their troubled son approached them for the final time.
Jared Hope was clutching a powerful handgun he had bought two weeks earlier. He fired multiple shots from the .357 Magnum, killing both his parents.
Then he went downstairs, and put the gun to his own head.
This triple tragedy occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 2002, in Whitefish, Mont. I was the editor of the local paper, The Whitefish Pilot, and covered the aftermath of this horrific event.
The debate over guns that is ongoing in America brought most of the details back to me. I recalled them all too clearly.
Chet, known as Chester to his friends, was a popular local doctor who also had served on the City Council. Carol was a fourth-grade teacher noted for her bright smile and artistic talents. He was 56, she was 55.
Jared, 24, was a college student who had attended classes at the University of Montana in Missoula. His once-promising life had gone off the tracks.
He had been treated for mental illness, and was clearly troubled. Jared disappeared by the Canadian border for a few days the previous summer, and claimed he had simply gotten lost after a frantic search effort was mounted.
He was placed in a mental hospital for a bit after that episode, but then returned to the community. His family hoped for better days.
I used to see him walking the sidewalks of downtown Whitefish, and his pain and agony were apparent. He was also, to be honest, rather frightening.
Jared started acting very strange at times in Missoula, we later learned. He talked to a pencil during a class, and made vague threats.
Some of his classmates and at least one teacher grew fearful. One student said he expected Jared to come into a classroom with a gun and shoot people, so he always sat by the door, ready to make a fast escape.
Then, on Feb. 10, a cold, sunny day in Whitefish, Jared went skiing on the local hill, and went uptown to shoot pool and have a few drinks with friends.
He then went to the home where he was raised. His parents were in bed.
Jared had bought the .357 two weeks earlier. He did so illegally, lying on the federal application when it asked if he had a history of mental illness.
That’s all there was to stop him from buying the gun. A piece of paper. It didn’t work.
When he walked into his parents’ bedroom that night, Jared fired six shots. Carol was shot in the chest. Chet was hit three times.
Chet died almost immediately. Carol somehow came to, donned a robe, and struggled to get outside, either to seek help or to get away from her son.
Jared reloaded the gun, took a seat in the basement, and ended his life.
Carol died on the deck in the back yard, and her body was spotted the next morning, bringing police to the scene to uncover the entire horrible event.
In the news business, we have to cover events like this sometimes. So I did, writing news stories, and a long feature on this family tragedy. It comes with the job, but it’s still a difficult task.
There was a joint funeral held on the local baseball field six days after the shootings. A lot of people wore sunglasses, and not just to shade their eyes from the bright sun. Hundreds attended, and fond and funny stories were told about all three of the Hopes.
I knew Jared a bit, and had talked to Carol a time or two. Chet was my doctor, and my friend.
He had a great smile, and loved to talk politics, local issues and share stories of his love of fishing and scuba diving, sometimes over a beer or two at the Bulldog Saloon after council meetings. Chet was very kind to me and my family, and his death, and those of his wife and their beloved son, shocked me then, and hurt me still.
I don’t know what the answer is to guns in America, although it does seem like 300 million handguns, shotguns and rifles is more than too many. I am not anti-gun. I grew up in a house with a shotgun and .22 rifle in my parents’ room. I have hunted, and many of my family members and friends have as well.
Still, the spate of gun murders and mass shootings has given me pause to think. There must be some ways to reduce the carnage.
I think stronger background checks will ensure that sick, troubled, confused people like Jared Hope won’t have such an easy time getting a gun that could cause so much pain.