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Unpopular opinion: There’s a reason we talk about Richard Russell the way we do

(KIRO 7 / John Waldron)

Richard Russell, “Beebo” to his friends, stole a commercial airplane from Sea-Tac Airport and took it for a joyride before he crashed it on a small Puget Sound island. He was the only casualty from the incident.

Since the crash, the discussion has focused on why he did it, and how a good-natured man could have come to such an end. That discussion is more difficult for KIRO Night’s Gee Scott and Zak Burns, who argue there is a reason people have not been more harsh about such a serious offense.

RELATED: Former NTSB chair says Sea-Tac theft should prompt mental health awareness

“I am one that wants to feel bad for him and there are moments when my heart just breaks, especially listening to the audio out of the cockpit,” Zak said. “But the way we are framing him as a great all-American kid, a wonderful friend, a wonderful co-worker is only because he looks the way he does. He’s got a name like ‘Richard.’ He’s got a nickname like ‘Beebo.’ If his appearance was different, if his name was different, if his ethnicity was different, we would not be talking about this story in the same manner.”

“All that being said, my heart is kind of broken for this guy and my heart is broken for his family,” he said. “I understand all the biases that allow me to have this opinion, but nonetheless I still have it … This story is being covered differently because it was only he who lost his life. Obviously, if he had flow into a neighborhood and killed others, I know I wouldn’t personally be asking this question.”

There are a lot of factors that people have considered in the wake of the tragedy — financial circumstances, minimum wage, mental health, brain damage from high school sports. But Gee won’t go that far, even as a person who sympathizes with people having a hard time, such as the homeless or people who attempt suicide. But at what point do we use mental health or other factors to explain away a person’s actions? And is their background a factor in that consideration — their ethnicity, class, etc.? Do some people get leeway while others don’t?

“I cannot get over the fact he stole a machine; something that could have killed others,” Gee said. “That could have flown over the Pearl Jam concert … luckily he came down on Ketron Island in which there are like 11 or 17 people who live there. Fortunately, he didn’t hit any homes and kill anybody.”

“If someone can say ‘I feel sorry,’ and ‘mental health,’ just remember that with all ethnicities from all religions and backgrounds, you could apply that same sentiment toward them,” he said.

“Ted Bundy had a mental illness. Osama bin Laden had a mental illness,” Gee added. “Osama bin Laden’s mom did an interview recently and said he was a good kid who got brainwashed … they talked about how good of a person he was and then got that way. We’ve been watching John Moffitt, former Seahawk who’s on social media right now with all that sexist stuff he’s saying. I know John Moffitt; he didn’t use to be that way. Something has snapped in him.”

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