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Perspective | What Aiden McCarthy’s GoFundMe can’t pay for

The GoFundMe for Aiden McCarthy was at $2.21 million as I started this sentence, and $5,000 higher by the time I reached this middle part of it and $18,000 higher by the time I ended it. Astronomical sums, until you think about what it’s trying to pay for.

In the frantic first hours after the Highland Park, Ill., massacre on Monday, a photograph began appearing on social media: a toddler with big eyes and loopy curls who had become separated from his parents at the parade. The stranger who found him was hoping to learn the boy’s identity and reunite him with his family. The post went viral first in the Chicago area and then well beyond; I saw it online posted by friends in Bangor and Albuquerque.

Did someone in New Mexico really think their personal friend circle would be the key to solving the mystery? Maybe not, but sharing the photo provided a sense of hopeful purpose: a way to wring a little happy ending out of something so godawful you could barely stand it.

The next day it turned out this was a failed mission from the start. The boy’s name was Aiden and his parents, Irina and Kevin, had both been killed at the Fourth of July parade. They had been slaughtered (did you know journalists don’t use “murdered” unless a conviction is reached?) in the street along with five other people; dozens more were injured. In the bloody United States of 2022, mass shootings barely rate as newsworthy if they’re in the single digits, which made the McCarthys’ deaths seemed extra unfathomable: seven people dead but two of them were this boy’s parents? What are the hideous odds?

And so began a new shared mission on Aiden’s behalf: A woman who said she was a family friend launched a GoFundMe with a target goal of $500,000. Aiden “will have a long road ahead to heal, find stability, and ultimately navigate life as an orphan,” the campaign read. The money would go toward his care and rehabilitation. The GoFundMe hit its target goal within hours and just kept climbing: to $1.4 million by late Tuesday, to $2 million by Wednesday morning, to whatever it is by now. Enough for Aiden to go to college five or six times over. Enough for all the therapy in the world.

The people who donated — of which I was one — obviously did so because it was both the least and the most they could do, to help the boy whom it turned out they had not helped as originally intended, back when people around the country shared his picture online. But it’s hard to look at this sum as anything other than blood money, the restitution of a guilty nation paid to a small boy because we cannot bring back his family and we will not take away the kind of guns that killed them.

I haven’t been able to stop refreshing the GoFundMe page for Aiden McCarthy. It represents what sum we find a reasonable amount to make up for the fact that a child no longer has parents. It represents what we are willing to pay for a particular reading of the Second Amendment, the reading that allows a young man with a troubled history to buy a semiautomatic weapon, which he will use to climb on a roof and spray bullets into a parade celebrating America’s independence.

The GoFundMe is at $2.38 million as of the writing of this sentence, by the way, and also Aiden’s grandfather told the Chicago Sun-Times that Aiden survived because Kevin McCarthy used his own body to shield his son from bullets, that Aiden was under Kevin’s body when Kevin was shot. Aiden’s grandfather told the Sun-Times that when he went to collect Aiden from the police station, Aiden told him that “Mommy and Daddy are coming soon.”

Mommy and Daddy are coming soon.

The shootings of 2022 are the first ones that I’ve experienced as a mother. I can’t say that parenthood made has made me view America’s gun violence in a different way than before. But I can say that as I watched Aiden McCarthy’s GoFundMe these past 24 hours, I spent a lot of time thinking about his mother, Irina, and about what would pass for mercy in this situation.

Here is what I came up with:

I hope that Irina and Kevin McCarthy died alone. I hope that by the time the two of them were shot and killed on the Fourth of July, they were already separated from each other in the panic and horror and gunfire raining down on the Highland Park parade. If they were separated, it means that as Irina McCarthy drew her final breath, she could take the smallest comfort in believing that her 2-year-old son would be raised lovingly by his father.

If they were together, then it means both died knowing that in a matter of minutes their son had been made an orphan.

They died knowing there was no parent to scoop him up as he wandered alone down a bloody street. They died knowing he would be lost and terrified and nobody would be calling out his name. There would be no familiar neck for him to cling to.

There would be only a police station, followed by concerned neighbors and a GoFundMe.

On the top of the GoFundMe page, there is a pixelated photo of Aiden’s parents on what might have been their wedding day: Kevin in a black bow tie, Irina in white lace and an updo.

In this photo, they smiled in the prime of their lives, in what later turned out to be the end of their lives. Over to the side of this picture the donations rolled in — $2.52 million now, as I continue to type. Higher and higher and still never enough.

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