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Father still feels guilt over drug-addicted son he shot in self-defense

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 6:27 am

D. Michael Pain's last name says it all. He's a man who knows about pain, the kind that comes from shooting and killing your only son.“I've had a very difficult time with this,” said Pain, referring to the death of David Michael Pain Jr. “I still blame myself. I beat myself up with 'what ifs' and 'could ofs' and 'should ofs.'”

Pain traces the downward arc from David's childhood. Pain was a single father, juggling a television reporting career that sometimes took him all over the world with raising David and his younger sister in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“David was a bright kid with a lot of potential, but he was having a hard time dealing with the divorce,” Pain said. “He had a lot of anger and got involved with marijuana.”

When David was 12, Pain took him to see a Catholic priest.

“The priest was a personal friend of mine, so I trusted him,” Pain said. “But I learned years later that the priest molested him for more than a year.” Pain suspects the molestation sent David into despair from which he could not escape.

David began taking powerful drugs and committing petty crimes. At age 18, he was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery and sentenced to eight years in prison.

“For all practical purposes, that ended his life,” Pain said. “Once you get involved in the prison system, you are almost doomed. When he got out at age 26, he still had a drug problem and a prison record, but no driver's license or job skills.”

Pain helped David check into several drug rehab centers. He took some classes at a junior college in Seattle and at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, and managed to cobble together some good grades.

But that success was temporary. He was convicted of burglary in California and, facing a long sentence under the “three strikes law,” accepted a seven-year prison sentence.

When David emerged from prison he made another attempt to turn his life around, staying clean and sober for months at a time while launching entrepreneurial ventures — including one in which he designed, made and sold women's handbags. But the road to recovery proved too steep.

“He was smart, charismatic and hard-working,” Pain said. “But life was hard for him, and he continued to have a tough time.”

Downward spiral

David saw a team of psychiatrists and counselors, who diagnosed him with depression and bipolar disorder. He returned to drugs with a vengeance, particularly methamphetamines. That led to repeated scrapes with the law and outbursts of uncontrollable anger.

In the final months of his life, David was living on the streets. He tried suicide three times — once stuffing a pair of latex gloves down his throat while in the hospital. A nurse found him choking, his face turning blue, and extracted the gloves just in time with a pair of forceps.

“David and I loved each other very much, but he had a terrible temper,” Pain said. “When he got high on methamphetamines, he would tear up my house — throwing phones through my TV set, smashing windows and punching holes in the walls with his fists.”

On more than one occasion, David punched his father in the face.

“I was afraid of him,” Pain admitted. “Meth makes a person psychotic, and I never knew what he might do next.”

‘You shot me’

On June 20, 2010, Pain heard from others that David was strung out on methamphetamines.

“I knew that meant he hadn't slept for three or four days and was extremely dangerous,” Pain said. “For my protection, I had bought a .22-caliber rifle.”

Later that day, David arrived at Pain's house in a rage. Accompanied by two of his friends, he pounded on the front door, demanding that Pain let him inside. When Pain refused, he kicked the double-paneled door off its hinges.

David knocked Pain to the floor, climbed on top of him and began pounding him with his fists. His friends pulled him off, allowing Pain to run to a bedroom and bolt the door behind him.

But David broke down that door as well, finding his father cowering in the corner, holding a rifle.

“David, leave me alone!” Pain shouted.

“Shut up you mother........!” David screamed. “I'm going to take that gun away from you and shoot you!”

As David lunged forward, Pain aimed the rifle at his son's leg and pulled the trigger — intending to inflict a painful-but-not-fatal flesh wound that would stop his aggression.

A shot rang out. David stopped in his tracks, a look of stunned disbelief etched on his face.

“You know you shot me!” he yelled.

“I know, David,” Pain said. “You need to get to the hospital.”

“No way,” he said. “I'd rather be dead than go back to prison.”

David's friends helped him into the car they'd arrived in moments before. Pain begged them to take David to the emergency room. As the car sped away, Pain frantically called the police. An hour later, an officer called him back, informing him they'd found David lying dead in a motel parking lot in Mesa, Ariz. He was 38.

Pain learned the bullet he'd fired had perforated the femoral artery in David's leg, and his friends had been unable to staunch the bleeding.

“I was devastated,” Pain said. “I kept asking myself the same question — 'Why didn't I take him to the hospital myself?' ”

Police determined Pain had shot his son in self-defense.

Peace at last

Haunted by images of the shooting that played a cruel loop in his mind, Pain moved into a condo and rented out his house. He also began flying to Bloomington to watch football games at Indiana University — where he'd been a student for several years before leaving to enter law school at Arizona State, and a place for which he still had fond memories.

Those visits stirred those memories, prompting him to move to Bloomington in 2011 — though he still flies back to Arizona on occasion to spend time with his daughter and four grandchildren.

Today, now 72 and retired, Pain still struggles to beat back thoughts about his son. Two psychiatrists have diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The first year after David's death I don't hardly remember — it was a blur,” he said. “Then it started hitting me, and since then it's been very difficult for me.”

Pain's countenance softens, and his voice becomes a whisper.

“I loved him very much,” he said. “It's ironic that the person who cared about him more than anyone else — the person who tried for years to rescue him from his addictions — is the one that shot and killed him.”

Though David's death has scarred his soul, Pain said his faith is helping him cope.

“I think there's more to this world than what we can see with our eyes,” he said. “I believe David has been released from the miserable life he had. I think he's finally found the peace he was looking for.”