On the one year anniversary of his wife’s death, a shooter entered his son’s school
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RIGBY – For Curtis Nielsen, May 6 has become a date to remember in more ways than one.
Like other parents, he was shocked to hear the news last Thursday that a student had pulled a gun from her backpack and fired multiple rounds inside Rigby Middle School, where his son attends. Two students and a janitor were injured.
His son, Ivan, was not hurt, but his classroom was in the same hallway where the shooting took place.
As Nielsen sent his son out the door Tuesday morning for his first day back to school since the shooting, he recalled the events of last week with a unique perspective.
“In my family, we all took the perspective of, ‘That wasn’t a good day, but that day a year ago was much worse,'” Nielsen tells EastIdahoNews.com.
On May 6, 2020, his wife, Melissa, or Missy, as she was known to friends and family, was hit by a car within 220 yards of their home on 136 North in the Sandstone subdivision. The driver was 46-year-old Lincoln Lear, Nielsen’s next-door neighbor.
A probable cause affidavit revealed it was a case of distracted driving. Lear hit Missy while trying to grab his phone charger on the passenger side of his vehicle. As Lear looked up and realized what had happened, he immediately called 911. Deputies arrived within minutes and administered CPR, but Melissa didn’t make it.
Two months later, Lear appeared in court on charges of vehicular manslaughter and Nielsen provided an emotional testimony on his neighbor’s behalf.
“It’s unfortunate this happened. I love my wife,” Curtis said at the court hearing. “But if you know Lincoln like I do … he has no malice. He’s a gentle person. It’s a mistake many of us have made before and not had the same consequence.”
“I don’t have any ill feelings towards him,” he went on to say. “I forgave him and hugged him that morning of the accident. He’s paid enough for that moment of just being distracted. Even though it was tragic, there have been many blessings that have come because of it and I see those more and more as time has gone on.”
After listening to Curtis and Lear’s attorney, the judge sentenced Lear to a year of probation with the removal of the conviction from his record upon successful completion of his probation.
Since the hearing, Lear says the judge’s ruling has been a huge blessing for him and his family. His wife and sons are disabled and require constant care. If it hadn’t been for the judge’s ruling that day, Lear says his family would be in dire circumstances.
“My wife can’t function as a normal parent. It would’ve been ugly,” says Lear. “Probation has allowed me to drive to work, to doctor’s appointments (and get) groceries … to take care of my family.”
Lear’s probation will be complete sometime in July.
Though he’s grateful for Curtis’s support and the judge’s mercy to him, Lear says he wishes every day he could change the outcome of the accident.
“It’s hard for me to look at their kids because they know I took their mother away from them,” says Lear. “Curtis is understanding, but I just can’t imagine all the changes their family had to make overnight.”
Over the last year, Curtis says he’s never once felt bitterness or anger about what happened. He and his four kids have felt Missy’s presence many times and they’ve grown closer as they’ve learned to navigate their way through “the new normal.”
Normalcy during tragedy
Curtis knew the anniversary of Missy’s death would be an emotional day for the entire family and he made it a point to try and maintain that new sense of normalcy for the kids.
“My daughter, Trinity, didn’t go to school that day just because that’s what she wanted (to do) to help her heal. For the rest of the kids, I was like, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a normal day. We’re going to do the school thing.’ I went to work,” he says.
It was shortly after arriving at work that Curtis heard about the shooting at his son’s school.
“Initially, I was a little worried. But Ivan has a phone. He texted me and said, ‘Hey, I’m fine,'” Curtis recalls.
Curtis says his concern then shifted to the victims, which included two of Ivan’s classmates. He also expresses concern for the female student who fired the shots, who he says will now face a heavy consequence for a decision she may not have intended or wanted to make.
In the wake of another tragedy, Curtis is grateful his son is ok and he’s counting his blessings that the outcome wasn’t as tragic as the events of May 6, 2020.
A new chapter
Though it’s been a difficult journey over the last 12 months, life recently started moving in a new direction for Curtis and his family. He started dating a woman several months ago and he’s happy with how that’s going.
He’s also in the market for a new home and is looking to sell the one they’re currently living in.
“The house we live in is Missy’s house. There’s too much history there that’s painful,” he says. “We’re planning to stay in Rigby. That’s where my kids go to school and we really love that community.”
Curtis says if there’s one thing he’s learned over the last year, it’s to not take life for granted. His relationship with his kids is stronger and he says if he had a chance to talk to Missy one last time, he’d simply repeat the last words he said to her the day she died — “I love you.”
“The events of the last year have helped me realize how important it is to not take people for granted and make sure you live in the moment. A lot of times, we think we’ve got time for that and we make plans for the future and sometimes we neglect to live in the moment.”