When the body, which is still breathing but is destined to be a body soon, lies there like a pile of clothes until he is gently turned over, when the eyelids flutter, when blood trickles from the mouth, when the body waits for escort by wheeled siren, that actor’s part is done. The detectives examine the scene, pick up shell casings, talk into their radios. This location shoot is almost a wrap. Police tape comes down. Roads are reopened. Neighbors go inside.

That’s TV—the stuff I watch every night.

The male cops are serious and handsome; the female cops are beautiful, and all their blouses plunge deep. The victim dies. (Sometimes he deserves it.) And the perp, who takes off on foot up the street, is caught.

But when you are ten feet from the lump of human who stumbled across the street after six gunshots at close range rocked your house, while you are standing in the kitchen with your husband, who’s been away all week, and you’re just about to pick up your daughter from the school a half a mile away, with a bad guy on the loose, it’s not television anymore. And when the crude circle of blood in the asphalt, next to the gutter, next to your neighbor’s house, remains when the cops go home, it is not the only stain.

We waited until an hour after the shooting to pick up our daughter from school. I didn’t want her to be afraid. But Marty explained the events on their drive home, and when Serena arrived, she stood out on the deck with red eyes. We asked if she wanted to talk about it, but she turned and went in. She had other plans.

I went inside moments later to find her and give her another hug. But when I got into the dining room, I could hear her quietly strumming a guitar and singing. I didn’t want her to stop, but I wanted to preserve the moment, so I grabbed the camera—the same camera I used to shoot that blotch of blood on the pavement next to the cell phone and the pile of clothes—to spy on her as she strummed, then wrote in her journal, then strummed again.* I could barely hold the camera steady for my crying.

Today was the first beautiful day in more than a week. I walked a few miles, mowed my lawn, picked up my husband from his camping trip. And then I heard the six gunshots and called 911. I thought the day was bloodied, ruined. But my daughter redeemed it.

A little while ago, she came into the kitchen and said, “I’m angry. Do you mind if I cuss to get my anger out?” I told her I didn’t. And as she went down the basement stairs (on her way to watch the TV she bemoans in her song), she said, “That guy’s a mother-fucking asshole.”

Lyrics by Serena Joy Utah Miller

Sirens flaring,
TV blaring,
Tell me what you make of this.
The world has finally turned around.
We all live, and we all die
We hear God’s deafening cry.
We deserve to die
If we can’t live with one another.


We all deserve to die
If we can’t live with each other
(stop; whisper “die”)

*I have her permission to use this video.

If you can’t see the video above, use this screen below.

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  1. Aunt Teena May 8, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    This is awful on so many levels. It happens all the time, but it doesn’t happen where we live. But now it does, and you got to see all the horror of it. And you and your family got to feel so much fear. And someone is dead who may or may not have deserved it. We’ll never know.

  2. Kim Hosey May 8, 2009 at 10:07 pm #


    And Serena is amazing.

  3. leedav May 8, 2009 at 10:34 pm #

    She is so amazing. I think you should all move to Madison.

  4. Blanche and Guy May 8, 2009 at 10:43 pm #

    wow. just wow.

  5. Esther May 8, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    so senseless and useless, and so damn sad, no matter what.

  6. Cybergabi May 8, 2009 at 11:28 pm #

    I’m glad she wrote that song. I’m sure it will help.

    Hugs to all of you.

  7. Sarah May 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    Oh wow, Leslie. I’ve tears streaming down my face…that just blew me away. Your writing and then the video. Seeing Serena process that and write a kick-ass song. She is truly such a beautiful soul. Wow.
    Please give her an extra hug from me.

  8. jodi May 9, 2009 at 12:35 am #

    i can’t see the video, but i can imagine it. you have such a tremendous family.

  9. jo(e) May 9, 2009 at 1:25 am #


    (Hugs to all of you.)

  10. mobtownblues May 9, 2009 at 1:56 am #

    Serena’s one of the coolest people I know, and I mean that in the most sincere, non-glib fashion possible. You’re very lucky to have such an amazing daughter. And of course she’s very lucky to have such an amazing mom.

  11. Leslie F. Miller May 9, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    I need an additional wow for my daughter. It’s even better in the morning.

  12. Kathleen May 10, 2009 at 10:31 am #

    i am sorry this happened so close to your home…sorry it happened at all. the level of violence in our urban youth is disheartening.

    serena is strong and wise beyond her years.

  13. sp8cemunky May 11, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    how did I miss this?

    Serena =fantastic. Give her a hug from me and tell her to keep on rocking.

    It takes something extra to channel all the feeling of anger away from helplessness and into creation.

  14. jennifer May 11, 2009 at 7:33 pm #

    this story — serena’s song — is incredible. i’m so sorry you had to experience that, but at the same time i’m so happy that you’ve given serena that outlet, that she knows it’s ok to express anger, and that creating music out of it is something we can do to control the situation.

    man. wow indeed.

  15. Diana Pappas June 11, 2009 at 8:26 pm #


    Chills and tears.

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