Thursday, August 25, 2016

The day Shelton killed himself...

Yesterday, I happened to read an article in the Army Times about a shocking situation that occurred at a court-martial hearing on July 15, 2015.  At about 1:00pm that day at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 46 year old Master Sergeant Timothy Shelton of West Virginia was found guilty of several charges of sexual abuse of a child.  He was expected to be sentenced for his crimes after a one hour lunch break.

During the break, Shelton was unshackled and escorted to his lawyer's office and to a separated room where he was allowed to speak with his family.  Shelton then asked if he could go to his truck to get his ACUs, which is the required uniform for the confinement facility.  He was allowed to get the uniform.

A short time later, Shelton asked if he could go back to his vehicle for some prescription medication he had left there.  Amazingly enough, this request was also granted.  Shelton went to the vehicle escorted by two guards, one of whom got a phone call from a commanding officer.  While the guard answered the phone call, the other escort went with Shelton.  Upon reaching the truck, Shelton opened a box where he had stored a revolver.  He pulled out the weapon and used it to kill himself.  Fortunately, no one else was injured or killed during the incident.

Shelton had been serving in the Army since 1990 and had served two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014.  He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.  He had problems with nightmares brought on by losing his best friend to a helicopter crash and being assigned to a job where he had to investigate other helicopter crashes.  Seeing the footage created tremendous stress for Shelton and worsened his PTSD.  

When I shared this article on Facebook, several of my friends wondered why Shelton's issues with PTSD entered into the story.  I wondered about that myself, at first.  Lots of people have PTSD and don't assault children.  Having read the article again, I think the reporter included the information to explain Shelton's mental state when he decided to commit suicide.  That particular story was less about Shelton's crimes and more about how he was able to kill himself while being "guarded".

First off, I have to say that it's very fortunate that no one else was hurt when Shelton decided to kill himself.  It amazes me how trusting Shelton's guards were, although I can sort of understand why they were so trusting.  This was a guy who wore the same uniform and had done well enough in the Army to achieve the rank of Master Sergeant.  The guards probably had a modicum of respect for him, despite the fact that he was just convicted of sexually abusing children.

Secondly, while I think Master Sergeant Shelton's crimes toward children are despicable, I have compassion toward him and his family.  Many people commenting on the Army Times article were posting comments that were pretty unsympathetic.  I certainly understand people thinking Shelton is a scumbag for hurting children and then not owning up to what he did, but the fact is, he was still a husband, father, son, friend, and brother.  There's no doubt that his family and friends were hurt by this whole situation.  I see many people lit virtual candles for Shelton.  Moreover, he must not have been all bad if he managed to serve over two decades in the Army and achieve the rank of Master Sergeant.  Shelton has a family living with the aftermath of his crimes and the manner of his death.  I have empathy for them.  This situation must be a nightmare for them.

When it comes to child molesters, many people have absolutely no sympathy.  A person who sexually abuses kids is often thought of as a monster.  As someone who was sexually abused as a child, I can understand where the outrage comes from.  However, I also see a different side of sex offenders.  Many people who sexually abuse others were themselves victims of abuse.  Most people are not all good or all bad.  The man who abused me also taught me about gardening and took me places.  He paid attention to me and was nice to me when I drew him pictures.  He also showed me pornography, which was a bad thing to do.  But he wasn't all bad.  Even my husband's vile ex wife isn't all bad, even though she does very bad things.

When I was in college, I had a professor who used to talk about her alcoholic first husband.  She used to tell us that she had to learn to "separate the man from the action".  She had to learn to see her first husband as a fallible human who sometimes did bad things, not as a person who is inherently bad.  That concept has really stuck with me all these years.  It's easy to be blinded by evil things people do, especially when the things they do are absolutely horrible.  But the vast majority of people have a shred of decency within them somewhere.  It's evident that Shelton had more than a spark of decency.   Otherwise, why would so many people express condolences on his obituary?

I noticed many people who were commenting about this news story were glad Shelton killed himself. Quite a few outraged folks said they were glad that POS was gone, since it meant one less child molester in the world and one less incarcerated person taxpayers would be supporting.  I have to wonder how many of those people would feel the same way if it was one of their loved ones who had been convicted of devastating crimes against children and then committed suicide while supposedly being guarded.  It's easy to damn someone to hell if they are a stranger.  It's harder if the person is known to you and you've seen their human side.  Plenty of people have rigid, black and white thinking when it comes to sex offenders.  But when it turns out the offender is a loved one, the black and white thinking becomes a bit grayer.  

I think Shelton's decision to kill himself must have been somewhat spur of the moment.  He probably had thought of suicide quite often, since he had the weapon in his truck.  However, the day he decided to pull the trigger must have come as somewhat of a surprise to him.  The situation lined up just right for him to take the action he did.  Had he been a civilian who had just been convicted of sexual abusing children, he never would have had the opportunity to get his hands on a weapon.  Hell, even as someone in the military, the way this situation came together is amazing.  He must have decided within minutes to self destruct.  Had he had different guards...  had he been kept shackled...  had he been denied access to his vehicle...  maybe he might still be living now.

In any case, perhaps death was the easy way out for Shelton.  But, at least we can take some comfort in knowing that he can no longer victimize anyone.  


  1. Sexual abuse is obviously a heinous crime. It's also, in my opinion, an even worse crime for which to be accused. It's probably one of the most difficult crimes for which to get a fair trial. Too often (not in every case, obviously) all it takes is an allegation in order to get a conviction. sometimes when an acquittal actually happens, it's reported in a 1.5 inch blurb below the fold on the back page, as opposed to the front-page news arrest or conviction.

    A molestation is a terrible thing for a child to go through, but we know from situations like the McMartin Preschool fiasco and some ugly divorces in which parents make false allegations that not every accusation of molestation was legitimately preceded by a molestation.

    1. I really don't know the specifics in this case. All I found out is that he was convicted of sexually abusing a child. And, you're right. People tend to believe the worst when someone is accused.

      I have no way of knowing one way or the other what actually happened in this case, other than Shelton ended up committing suicide.


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