Richard Martinez shows remarkable leadership in face of tragedy

Joe Tarica.
Joe Tarica.

Richard Martinez is a remarkable man.

Barely one week removed from learning his only son had been killed in the Isla Vista rampage, the father from San Luis Obispo County has become the tragedy’s face of grief and action.

Beginning at the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s news conference on the day after Elliot Rodger’s deranged shooting and stabbing spree claimed the life of Christopher Michaels-Martinez and five other UCSB students, Martinez seized the microphone and has not given it up.

He has been interviewed by Anderson Cooper, spoken to media outlets from around the world and stood tall and resolute as the emotional center of the university’s memorial on Tuesday, when he implored the crowd of 20,000 to join him in the fight against gun violence, chanting, “Not one more!”

He was on the cover of the New York Daily News astride the headline, “Get to work and do something!” And the father of a victim in the Sandy Hook massacre reached out to him on Facebook, saying, “We have not met, but you are now part of our extended family.”

Frankly, I don’t know how he has managed this past week.

At a time when most of us would retreat into the solace of close friends and family, shutting out the world while planning a funeral, Martinez had done just the opposite.

And he has done it with a level of fortitude that is nothing short of amazing.

On Tuesday on CNN, he answered Cooper’s questions with steel and determination, only occasionally shuddering under the weight of unfathomable loss, before quickly regaining his composure.

On Wednesday, after viewing the body of his son, he told the Daily News, “I will go anywhere and do anything to support political candidates who are running for office who are in favor of reasonable gun control.”

It’s as though he’s physically refusing to let the black clouds of despair overwhelm him, by directing energy and light away from mourning and into what he says may become the cause that inspires the rest of his life.

Initially, his anger was squarely and uniformly targeted at the gun violence enablers — the NRA and “craven, irresponsible politicians” — who never want to take even a whisper of responsibility for the mass shootings that plague our society.

But to further give him credit, Martinez has already quickly broadened his scope and proven himself savvy enough to understand that he will get the most attention and hopefully the most influence by addressing all of the factors that contribute to these tragedies.

So he’s prepared to talk about the mental illness factor, too, which is certainly as grave a concern as the proliferation of firearms itself.

It’s the combination that is proving most deadly, and we need to consider both hand in hand.

As he told The Tribune on Monday, “This is a complicated problem. It’s a mental health problem, it’s a gun violence problem, and it’s a problem of violence against women. My family is not going to forget that he originally was targeting young women. I think something has to be said about that.”

As if all this wasn’t enough, Martinez has also reached out to the killer’s father, recognizing that while their circumstances of being parent to hateful guilt and stolen innocence may vastly differ, both have ultimately lost their sons.

I don’t recall a time in these types of cases when a grieving mother or father this quickly offered such a selfless gesture to a person so closely tied to the source of their pain.

I hope Peter Rodger has a fraction of Martinez’s strength and can perhaps join in the effort to achieve meaningful change.

But however the Rodger family proceeds, this father from San Luis Obispo County has made it clear he will be a player on a national stage, demanding a voice — hopefully both now while the media is entranced by him and later when attention will shift elsewhere.

If anything can come of our area’s first brush with this kind of mass violence, let it be that we are able to lend a force for good.

It may seem like a small bit of comfort, but it is comfort.

We have Richard Martinez and his tremendous sacrifice to thank for that.