David Joseph Wayne Conwell shot and killed Duluth K-9 Officer Luna and was later killed by a member of law enforcement after a 20-hours-long standoff Friday in Duluth. I don’t know the specifics of Conwell’s life, but as details have emerged about him and the violent standoff that took place in our community, I recognized that my own life experience offers me unique insights into the situation.
I am not the woman who escaped that house before Conwell was killed, but I very well could have been. I am a survivor of domestic violence. My abuser used guns to threaten and control me. He had a lengthy criminal history. He was in active addiction, abusing his prescription medications and street drugs.
He was shot and killed by an off-duty county sheriff's deputy in another state three years after I escaped him. He made bad choices. He hurt people. He hurt me so deeply, so regularly, that it's really hard for me to remember anything good or positive about my time with him. My dog is the reason I left that relationship. She saved my life.
If anyone has a good reason to celebrate the death of David Conwell, it’s me.
But I’m not celebrating. I feel sick and heartbroken because I see many community members celebrating Conwell’s death. This is a sampling of Facebook comments I found on articles announcing his death: “Good riddance to bad garbage.” “Throw his body away. Or feed it to Luna’s co-workers.” “You will rot in HELL, you COWARD.” “Rest in piss, Greaseball. Rest In Peace Luna.”
A similar celebration happened in Facebook comments when my abuser’s death was announced in 2019. Each negative comment I read felt like a punch in the gut because, like my abuser, David Conwell was — always was — worthy of love. He doesn't deserve to have his humanity ignored. No one does.
My heart breaks for the person David Conwell allegedly abused, the trauma I can only imagine that she experienced, and how it will affect her for the rest of her life.
My heart breaks for Conwell, a man in crisis who was met with violence.
My heart breaks for the law enforcement members who have to carry the weight of the decisions they made with them for the rest of their lives.
My heart breaks for Conwell’s family as they reckon with their loss and his violent death.
Having empathy for everyone doesn’t make you weak. It means you have the courage to practice feeling, hurting, and healing over and over again. It means you practice forgiveness. Forgiveness for yourself and for others.
When you call someone “bad” and believe it, it's easy to lose empathy for them. It's easy to write them off as a bad person. Then when you mess up and realize you did something bad, it’s easy to start believing you are bad and not worthy of love. When we call people “bad,” when we believe people to be bad, we don’t leave space to heal.
You and I are equally as worthy of love as were Conwell and my abuser. You have to practice to truly believe that, because sometimes it hurts and you just want to call that person a piece of garbage so you don’t have to deal with those feelings and maybe because they remind you of a part of yourself you’d rather pretend doesn’t exist.
You don’t have to pretend everything is OK to forgive. You can still be upset and demand accountability, but when you let go of hate and practice forgiveness instead, that’s when healing can begin. Please let us heal.
Kathy Wilson of Duluth is a survivor of domestic abuse.