The kid lying in bed, watching television in Room 204 of the Comfort Suites off Raleigh’s New Bern Avenue had a limitless future, everyone who knew him says. They used words like “fantastic,” “phenomenal” and “incredible” to describe him.
The only thing incredible about the man in Room 206 appears to be – let’s be honest – his ability to stay free for long periods despite 28 convictions. He was a ne’er-do-well from Knightdale with a paper trail of restraining orders and criminal records. Randall Louis Vater was no Boy Scout.
Nathan Andrew Clark was, though, and he was soaring toward becoming an Eagle Scout.
That’ll never happen now, not after the two disparate souls became fatefully, fatally linked. Vater has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing Nathan by allegedly firing a bullet through the wall separating Rooms 204 and 206 of the Comfort Suites.
Did his gun accidentally go off as he lay in bed fondling it, or was he disturbed that the television in the next room was too loud, or was he just angry that life for him had turned out as it had?
In a just world, Nathan, 13, and Vater, 42, would have never met unless it was coincidentally at the hotel’s ice machine. They otherwise would have come no closer than the wall separating their rooms and would have checked out the next day and continued on their respective paths – Nathan playing soccer, getting his Eagle Scout wings, becoming the kind of son who lights parents’ lives.
Vater, presumably, could have continued doing what he has done for most of his adult life – committing felonies and misdemeanors, getting arrested, receiving chances from the justice system so he could commit some more.
Twenty-eight convictions? C’mon, man. What’s a fellow got to do to get some serious time around here?
That’s what Valerie and Charlie Clark will be asking whenever they think of their only son, their only child.
Vater had been released from prison three weeks prior to allegedly firing the shot that killed Nathan.
When you talk to people who knew Nathan, you get laughter and tears, the gamut of emotions. That’s understandable, since people like Richard Hardee called him “one of the most passionate kids I’ve ever been around. He was passionate about soccer, about Scouting, and most importantly about people. He had a genuine concern for others. ... He was also passionate about his relationship with Jesus Christ.”
That, said Hardee, head of school at Calvary Baptist Day School in Winston-Salem, is what will enable the parents of this “phenomenal kid” and his friends to go on.
‘A delightful young man’
After Nathan’s funeral Wednesday, I asked Danielle Tarmey, his fifth-grade teacher, if he’d ever expressed any career ambitions. “If he had any, they weren’t set,” she said, “but I do know soccer would have been right at the top of his list, a part of who he was. He was full-speed ahead, always had on his soccer jersey.”
He was, she said, laughing and crying, “all boy. He was just a delightful young man, full of energy, always moving.”
No longer, though, not after someone maliciously or recklessly – it doesn’t matter which – shot through the wall of Room 204.
We like to think of the Triangle as our little piece of heaven, but don’t be surprised if parents in other parts of the country become leery of sending their athletically or academically gifted children here.
In June 2011, remember, an 18-year-old star high school football player from Pennsylvania came to the Triangle with his team to visit area colleges. Darrell Turner Jr. was killed when several other teens and he crossed paths in a parking lot with a gunman – a man in Durham for his grandmother’s funeral who, for some reason, felt he needed a gun to walk across Mt. Moriah Road to the Outback Steakhouse a football field’s distance away. He pulled that gun and shot two of the teens after exchanging words, killing one.
The only thing these two deaths have in common is that they involved two young men whose flames were snuffed out because of random encounters with a man with a gun.
Chill out, gun lovers. This is no diatribe against guns, and we’ve all heard that guns don’t kill people, blah blah blah. Besides, Vater had proven that he could be a threat with a knife – he’d already been charged with cutting a woman – and explosives, as when he threatened to blow up his wife and in-laws with a pipe bomb.
Besides, too, the NRA has politicians so cowed that, before long, feeble-minded felons will be able to legally conceal carry.
That day has yet to arrive, though, and Vater, a felon, was not even supposed to possess a gun. Let’s hope the judge and jury consider that when he’s weighed in the balance.
Regardless of the NRA’s well-crafted, well-financed talking points, though, Nathan Clark and Darrell Turner Jr. would be alive today – would have returned from the Triangle to their homes safely – had they not been in the same ZIP code with – or in the room next to – men with guns.