One year and four months ago, one of my closest friends in the world, Shaun Rolly, committed suicide. The circumstances were dreadful. There were allegations of the worst kind. I have waited a very long time for his name to be cleared and to be able to discuss this publicly. His name is now cleared. The allegations have been dismissed and he has been declared innocent.
Just a couple of months before he took his life, a vindictive and very troubled youth, child of his ex wife who had turned their back on him, who he had taken into his home (had begged him to let him stay with him and his two younger children) until drugs and theft had forced him to throw them out, swore that they would watch him suffer.
Thus it was that one Sunday afternoon, the police burst into his home. They said they they had received an anonymous tip that there were materials related to child pornography and they had to search the home. Someone (i would love to say who, i know who, but i cannot name names) had walked into the police station with 2 CDS, said that these belonged to Shaun, and told them there were more in a black duffel bag under his bed. Then they quickly left. I know the black bag, it was where he kept all his old scripts and theater memorabilia. The CDs contained child pornography. The police went to his house, and sure enough, in the black bag, were several more CDs. The police took his computer, ransacked his house looking for anything more (there was nothing more) and, the biggest gut punch, they took his little girl away and told him he would be having no further contact with her.
Shaun had long been struggling to raise two children of his own plus two others that had been abandoned by his ex-wife. He always looked a bit tired and haggard, but would always make a comment about how one had to just stay positive. He worked tirelessly on his pirate show, did fight choreography for theaters around Pittsburgh , but mostly made his living teaching at a charter high school for the performing arts as well a teach fight choreography at Point Park College. His students loved him and he loved them and the job. The moment such allegations are made, that job, all such jobs, are over.
There is one unforgivable crime in our culture. Not even murder. You can murder and still be respected. Oddly, it’s true. But anything involving children and sex…. and i don’t disagree with this. If i found out someone tried to… my little boys… i honestly don’t know how i would refrain from killing them. I am not defending this heinous thing, but you understand, to be accused of it… the moment you are publicly accused of it, your life is over. Your job is gone. Everything is gone. It doesn’t matter if you’re innocent. The accusation alone will bring everything you hold dear crashing and burning to the ground.
A Pirate’s Tale was due to be put up in New Jersey, in full, with the complete orchestration played live by an orchestra (i was halfway through making the sheet music). That had been a dream of Shaun’s for years. Obviously that was going to disappear. (Indeed when his suicide was first reported, the person in charge of the show contacted me to help him keep the show going. 24 hours later when the allegations became public, i received an email informing me it was better for everyone if we just cancelled the whole thing.) He was going to lose his job and his means of supporting his kids. He was going to watch his show, his work, his reputation crumble. He was going to become the most reviled man in his county. It would take months to clear his name and in those months he would watch his life fall apart, and even after cleared, there would always be those who would never remember the innocence, only ever believe the worst. Think about it. You know i’m right. You know how it works in your own community. And worst of all, they had taken his kids. He was not to see them.
He was tired. He was haggard. Life had been a hell of a struggle for quite some time now. And so… fuck it. He didn’t even tell me. He didn’t even tell me any of this had happened. I was a continent away. I got an IM after this had happened and a couple of hours before he hung himself in his bathroom. All it said was that Shadows & Flames had always been his favorite album ever and i should really release it and hoped i was good. He wrote a 12 page suicide note, which i have read, proclaiming his innocence over and over but stating he didn’t have the strength to go through watching his life unravel and becoming the most hated man in his community. They took his kids. Without his kids, why even bother. Note written, in the middle of the night he went into his bathroom and hung himself.
I have played the scene of him hanging himself in my mind over and over again. The moment just before, when i imagine a look of utter anguish on his face. I picture him carrying the cord in, i picture every second of the 5 minutes leading up to the deed, and i have gone through it in my head over and over and over again. The tears i imagine rolling down his face, the look of anguish and finally the resolve. The almost calm. The deed. The reddening of his face as he loses air, the sounds, the quiet choking… i go over it all in second to second detail. It is unbearable. I brings me more pain than i can say. I deserve that pain. I deserve every second of torture that picturing it all brings. One of my best friends killed themselves and i did nothing to stop them. I did nothing to comfort them. I did nothing to save them. I failed them as fully and completely as one human being can fail another. They were one of my best friends and in their moment of greatest need all i did was fail them.
I didn’t know any of this was even happening of course. I was in europe, he was in pittsburgh. I only found about this several hours after he had died when i got messages on every single social media i had to call a mutual friend. But the guilt and pain doesn’t care. The guilt only laughs at what a great fucking friend you were when it mattered most.
I listened to Han Mi’s Lament on repeat last night. I made it for this reason. I didn’t make that track for you. I didn’t make it to shock you or hurt you or anything that has to do with you. I made it so there will be physical representation of what i feel. What it was like when someone you love kills themselves and all you could do about it was fucking watch.
But i digress.
The police captain of the local precinct actually knew Shaun. Shaun had be turning in drug paraphernalia for years. His ex wife had had many quite colorful issues including some bad drug habits. The youth mentioned earlier, her son from before she and Shaun had met also had issues and left lots of drug paraphernalia laying around. All of this Shaun had handed into the police over the years. Shaun was never into drugs. While i partied like a rock star in my 20s, he listened to my stories, smiled at the exploits, but chose to sit it all out. He didn’t even drink. He wasn’t against it or anything, it just wasn’t for him. He liked his coffee which he drank in quantities that even hard core alcoholics don’t drink alcohol, and that, along with cigarettes, were his vice. He had been turning in the crap he found for years. The police Captain knew him and in fact remarked “No, i didn’t buy the CDs for a minute. It wasn’t just that it didn’t fit with the guy, the whole thing reeked of a set up. When i got the case i didn’t pursue it as if he was guilty, i was taking it upon myself to clear him. If he had just been able to hang on…”
It’s a year and 4 months later. The Pittsburgh police have now cleared him of all charges. Actually, they never charged him. Cleared him of all allegations. He is officially declared innocent and believed to be the victim of criminal malice.
Those of us close to him know what happened. We know who. Both of you. I pray i will watch you burn. There are some close to Shaun who are able to talk about some type of forgiveness one day after justice has hopefully (but don’t hold your breath) been carried out. This is a noble thing, that type of forgiveness. I respect it enormously. I do not share it. I cannot forgive. I will watch every downturn your life takes and i will laugh with glee. I will wait. And one day if you ever get what is coming to you, namely justice and jail time, i will be there nodding in approval. You’ll go down for something, sooner or later. I pray it’s this. I will fly to Pittsburgh to attend that court case and i will be there smiling when the verdict is handed out. But sooner or later it will be something. Something that hurts you so very bad, and the worse it hurts, the more i will smile and smile. So just remember as you go through life: every time you hurt, every time your heart breaks, every time something goes wrong for you, every time you feel pain and failure, i am there. I am laughing at it. I am laughing at you and your misfortune. I am enjoying it all, cheering on whatever it is that hurts you. Smiling forever at your life’s failures.
But for now, i have waited over a year to make this statement. After Shaun killed himself the local TV news ran a segment on how a local teacher had killed himself amidst allegations of child pornography. The funeral happened amidst a circus of hysterical anger and outrage. I had to mourn as his name was dragged through the mud and his memory spit upon and the most horrible things imaginable said. It was vicious. It was vile.
He wasn’t even allowed a funeral. The church his mother convinced to let them have a service out of mercy couldn’t even hold a funeral, you can’t have a funeral for suicides. They made clear this was not a funeral, just a celebration of his life. It was a huge church. It was packed. Hundreds of people, including hundreds of former students, all attending, none of them believing the allegations.
He’s dead now, h’s been dead for over year. But his name is cleared. Shaun Rolly has been cleared of any and all allegations. He has been declared innocent. He was way too innocent. He was never cut out for this world. All those bad little parts of you? You know, maybe you’re mostly a pretty decent person but you know the bad parts. He didn’t have those. He didn’t understand those. It was crazy. He had this insane innocence. He was never able to understand monsters and he was surrounded by them and they took him down and devoured him.
Shaun Rolly has been declared innocent. It is official, for what it’s worth. And for what it’s worth, i’m so fucking sorry. I’m so, so very sorry. I miss you. I will honor you. I hope to fuck you’re in a better place if such a thing exists, or at the very least, at peace.