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Jeff Ward: What We Can All Learn From Shaun Wild's Death

If we look inside ourselves, we can take something away from this senseless act.

This kind of thing happens on Patch all the time. Combine a hint of anonymity with some touchy topics and that thin veneer of civilization can drop faster than those congressional approval ratings.

I’d even considered sponsoring a contest to see if any reader could actually come up with an epithet that hasn’t already been hurled my way, but I believe it’s all been said. In the end, I let it go because it’s something I’ve come to expect.

But two complete strangers sitting together in a bar? That one baffles me.

We’ve all heard the surrounding the murder of 24-year-old Naperville second-grade teacher Shaun Wild at 1 a.m. on Feb. 4 at a Naperville night club. And the truly tragic irony is that Wild was playing peacemaker when he was fatally stabbed.

While the Daily Herald headline, “No way to make sense of slaying,” is on the mark, that kind of thinking ultimately leaves us powerless in the grip of a cruel God who would allow this kind of “random” thing to happen.

Shaun Wild’s untimely death was, indeed, senseless, but unless his attacker turns out to be mentally ill, it’s only by attempting to apply some sort of framework to the events leading up to it that gives us any hope of avoiding a similar, seemingly random fate.

For all the obvious reasons, the officials involved in this investigation aren’t talking, but from the vast amount of ink the story has received, here’s what I believe happened.

Wild, a former standout punter, and Willie Hayes, a current defensive end, were part of a group of North Central College football players who got together for drinks at Frankie’s Blue Room that night.

Daniel Olaska, 27, a Naperville High School graduate and managing supervisor at Schaumburg Regional Airport, was drinking alone at the same crowded bar when, by sheer accident, he and Hayes found themselves sitting at the same table.

Maybe it was supposed to be good natured ribbing or maybe it was supposed to be something else, but for reasons only he can explain, Hayes began making fun of Olaska for drinking beer from a wine glass.

Considering how our culture values and encourages athletes who ascend to alpha male status, maybe it was more along the lines of taunting.

Olaska, who had clearly been picked on in the past, either wasn’t in the mood or didn’t take it as a joke. And we know, there had to be some precipitating event in his life because law-abiding citizens don’t feel the need to carry a concealed 5-inch folding knife.

This time, despite the utterly inconsequential nature of the jibe, he wasn’t going to take it anymore. So despite their size differential, Olaska started taunting the muscular Hayes about his too-tight T-shirt.

This is the point at which Hayes, a team leader, should’ve apologized, offered to buy Olaska a beer, and walked away. But now incensed himself, both men stood up and the verbal altercation escalated.

Enter Shaun Wild, who did exactly the right thing by attempting to calm them down, made them shake hands, and seemingly ended an unnecessary confrontation.

But, because alcohol was involved, Olaska can’t let it go. And in a furious and inexplicable overreaction to something that happened to him years ago, he grabs the knife, leaps up from the table, stabs Hayes in the arm and mortally wounds Wild in the chest as he comes to Hayes’ aid.

In less than 10 seconds, a multitude of lives are forever altered, and none of them for the better.

Wild’s family and friends now mourn an exceptionally talented man with a bright future cut short by a senseless act. His second-grade students, who can barely comprehend the concept of life, now have to contend with the realities of death.

Olaska, who according to friends, hasn’t had as much as a parking ticket, faces a minimum of 32 years in prison, if convicted. His family and friends not only mourn the death of Shaun Wild, but that of another life that, for all intents and purposes, is also over.

Hayes will have to live with the choices he made that evening and the death of his friend for the rest of his life.

Again, my intent isn’t to point a finger here, and I certainly don’t want to cause more pain—there’s more than enough of that to go around. But the only way we can choose not to be victims of a similar circumstance, is if each one of us takes something away from that tragic evening and applies it to our own lives.

Some are trying to blame the night club, but there’s nothing they could’ve done to prevent this. Others have scoured Facebook in search of a conspiracy-laden clue as to why Olaska “just snapped,” but that effort is just as futile.

When I think back to some of the silly confrontations of my youth, I’m surprised I’m still here. But maybe it’s stories like this one and the fact I somehow survived that stupidity that finally made me realize that being cut off in traffic is not an offense that requires a countermeasure.

It was Thoreau who said “most men lead quiet lives of desperation,” and on this planet of 6 billion people, we’re bound to cross paths with folks who believe themselves to be on the wrong end of a raw deal. And when we do, remember this: While we're not responsible for solving the problems of these desperate souls, despite whatever offense they might offer, it makes no sense to add to them, either.

Brian Doyle February 12, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Jeff: I think what you're writing about here may be only tangentially related to this tragic story. The clue lies in your opening paragraphs and your comment about road rage (with which I completely empathize, btw.) There's a Taoist saying that's been making the rounds on Facebook lately: Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. None of us will ever know what habits of thought led Daniel Olaska to bring a knife to a bar and let some innocent ribbing trigger his inner demons. That's really not the point for us here. The issue is what are we doing about our own inner demons in a day and age when reckless words and blame gaming consume us--especially in online forums like this one?
Jeff Ward February 12, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Brian, You're dead on. Though I too embrace the words of Lao Tzu, on some level, I thought that making the column more personal might work better towards making your point. I'm still not sure if I succeeded. Jeff
MM Thompson February 14, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Mr. Ward, I want you to know that I share the most possible respect for your intentions written here. But what purpose do you serve the community when writing about what you believed happened? What purpose does your speculation serve? It does not heal, it does not support, it only generates speculation which and quickly lead to falsehoods. What a great disappointment. Maybe folks are correct when saying Patch.com is just an outlet or gossip and not fact.
Bkwrm54 February 14, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Your column, for what ever reason, was emotional, i cried while i read all of the comments.I know I will think twice about reacting to angry situation and make sure I do not start one, I hope we all can learn from what happen here and control our tempers and learn to say "let's just walk away from this" we do not have to have the last word, because "nobody wins". Unfortunate some people under the influence of alcohol become violent and cannot think straight or logically and bad things happens. I think we should all take a look at ourselves next time we are in a confrontation with angry people, SHUT UP & WALK AWAY! I loved your column and I am sending it to everyone I know, so they can avoid what happened here.
Brad Griffin February 17, 2012 at 05:26 PM
That info is not accurate. The 2 men shook hands several minutes before their conversation escalated and Hayes never patted Olaska on the back.

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