Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: We’re floored by the fury in “Our Sweet, Quiet Boys” and its attention to the incredibly real, tragic circumstances that it shows. Would you talk about how your personal experiences might have influenced this essay and how you decided what data to include?

Megan Doney: Tragically, there are so many familicides to select from. When the Utah familicide occurred last January, I was aghast at the way the murderer was eulogized, yet wholly unsurprised by the details that emerged in the aftermath: that his wife had recently filed for divorce and there was a history of physical abuse in the family. Misogyny and family violence are closely linked to mass firearm violence; this connection is well-documented.

I was driving home from work yesterday thinking about these questions, when a truck passed me. On its back window was a sticker with the image of a bullet and the caption “Just The Tip, I Promise.” My God, I thought. Imagine making a rape joke and a shooting joke all at once, and a culture that normalizes that. 

I was very taken with the story of the Furies as dispensers of mythological, retributive justice. That may be a role of all myths, to offer people a symbolic way to reclaim power when the world they live in can’t offer any.

RR: We admire how you’re able to elicit a strong response on a topic that many readers may have become desensitized to. Did you have that in mind as you wrote, and how did you approach integrating empathy within the narrative?

MD: I’ve found empathy a troubling concept, personally. Of course, it is virtuous and aspirational, but it is very hard to maintain, especially, I think, when one does not see justice. Firearm violence is not just a personal catastrophe; it is rooted in culture and society. I can’t speak for everyone affected by it, but for me the large-scale resistance to personal, political, and cultural change is much worse to live with than the memories of the shooting itself. 

RR: In your cover letter you mentioned that this piece comes as a result of surviving a school shooting, and you ask the question, “What is fury but the most reasonable response?” How did writing this piece impact your ability to channel that fury, and did it help you process your anger?

MD: No, I wouldn’t say that it helped process my anger. I love T Kira Madden’s essay “Against Catharsis” in LitHub, which I recommend to anyone writing about trauma & violence. Writing about violence and its aftermath demands a degree of distance and attention to audience that the individual, private processing of trauma or anger doesn’t. You are crafting a story for someone else, a reader, not merely for yourself, the writer, so your attention must necessarily turn outwards.

My fury is not really about my own experience, but about our cultural inability to respond adequately to repeated male-perpetrated violence. After every familicide and mass shooting the news cycle asks about motive. Ultimately, these events boil down to the desire and the means. They wanted to, and they could. The patterns of behavior are so predictable, and as the piece makes clear, these events are almost exclusively perpetrated by men. Yet gender is rarely interrogated as a common factor. And the gun violence prevention movement is largely feminized: it’s Moms Demand Action, for example, not Dads. Though there are men in the movement, of course, more men need to engage in honest, vulnerable, and meaningful dialogue and action about why guns are so talismanic to some men, so representative of power and control, and what it means for all of us when they use guns not for “protection” but destruction—ours and their own.

RR: How do you think writing can bring attention to preventable tragedies? What is the relationship between writing and activism?

MD: Activism isn’t just about attending rallies or meetings, though obviously that kind of engagement is important. I have to believe that writing, and indeed any kind of art, can move people to learn and broaden their thinking. I think anyone trying to make sense of the world they live in through a creative process is also participating in a kind of activism.

RR: Have the other witnesses and survivors influenced you in your goal to spread awareness about gun violence and the importance of dismantling misogynistic systems and, if so, how?

MD: They have influenced me insofar as I have some sense of their anguish, and that we share a desire to spare others. I try to draw strength from their fierce dedication to ending firearm violence and their commitment to long-term change.


Read “Our Sweet, Quiet Boys” by Megan Doney in Issue 11.1.

Megan Doney

“Our Sweet Quiet Boys”1 or, Divinities Implacable

“A man’s honor always seems to want to kill a woman to satisfy it.”—Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This week it is a man in Uniontown, Ohio, near where I grew up. His wife’s coworker called for a welfare check after she did not show up for work. Officers found the entire family: father, mother, three children, aged fifteen, twelve, and nine—shot to death. What I always think of, in these stories, is that the last thing the children saw in life was their father, shooting them.

I take the word apart like a surgeon: 

annihilate: “reduce to nothing.” From Latin ad, to; and nihil, nothing.

A family annihilator, then, reduces his family to nothing.

Family annihilations happen every five days.2

November 2014/February 2018/May 2018/November 2021/May 2022

There is a shooting at ____________school.

I instantly surmise three things: 

one, that the shooter is male: “a sweet, quiet boy,” says one murderer’s family;

two, that the first victim is female; 

and three, that the shooter has gotten the gun at home. 

I have been right on all three counts dozens of times since. 

From the moment I entered school, I wanted to be the smartest girl in the room. Not anymore. Instead of pride and glee, knowledge ignites me with fury.

Gun violence is like the tower viewers found at scenic overlooks. Insert a quarter and you can scan the whole horizon, the landscape coming into vivid focus. Zero in on one shooting, and you will see a boy or man at the center with a woman’s body on the ground. Pull back, wider and wider, and you will see a crowd of men surrounded by graveyards of women.

South African writer and scholar Njabulo Ndebele, writing about the spectacular, reflects, “What is finally left and what is deeply etched in our minds is the spectacular contest between the powerless and the powerful.” 

Look at me.

The root of nihil, nil, comes from a proto-Indo-European root ne + hilum, “a small thing.”

I was having a bad week, my shooter told police, when they asked him why he opened fire at our school (male shooter, female victims).3

Women do not commit rampage shootings because we are angry at how our culture ignores, silences, and diminishes us, or because we have bad weeks.

It’s curious, isn’t it? Because don’t we have reason to act out this way? Don’t women have legitimate grievances that would, if not justify such violence, at least make it understandable? Has no one noticed that women and girls also play violent video games? And take psychiatric medications? And are romantically rejected? And have unfettered access to firearms? And grow up in homes without fathers? And get fired from their jobs? And have bad days and weeks and years?

There’s that aphorism about two young fish swimming together. An old fish asks How’s the water? and the young fish say What the hell is water?

We swim in the same water as men, yet we make utterly different choices. How do they not see this?

In January 2023, it was a man in Utah. He shot and killed his wife, his mother-in-law, his seventeen-year-old daughter, his thirteen-year-old daughter, his seven-year-old twins (boy and girl), and his four-year-old son. And then himself.

His wife had just filed for divorce.

The funeral home obituary for the murderer drew comments like these:

[Murderer’s name]…was always kind and good to us and always was willing to lend a helping hand. We don’t know the whys and how’s [sic] but I do know it’s not our right to judge. And the Lord loves [murderer] very much.

I’m grateful for his example of Christlike love and service.

The Furiae, or Erinyes, are the Greek goddesses of vengeance. They are called the Night-Born Sisters. Snakes undulate in their hair. They guard the dungeons of the damned, but come forth to punish murderers. Allecto, unceasing. Megaera, grudging. Tisiphone, avenging murder. 

Their name is ancient, from erinuô: I am angry.

I relish the story that they grew from drops of the blood spattered when their father Uranus was castrated by his son, Kronos. 

Once, I was afraid of my own fury. It swelled and pulsed through my veins and pounded in my brain and I used to run and run as far and fast as I could just to flatten it, to exhaust it, so that I would feel something, anything, else. 

But now it is a friend, it is familiar, it is icy and righteous and I will no longer try to pray it away.

“Malign Tisiphone seized a torch steeped in blood, put on a robe all red with dripping gore and wound a snake about her waist.”4

Look at me.

The rage I feel at this country which never ever calls it out, refuses to name what is so glaring to me and to literally anyone who pays a scintilla of attention: that rage is exhausting. 

The rage at the follow-up news story about the man in Utah: in 2020 he was investigated for domestic abuse, he choked their fourteen-year-old daughter, he took his wife’s devices to spy on her messages. He took away all the family’s guns, for himself. But, his Christlike love and service.

The annihilation is never the first sign that something is wrong. It’s the last.

How much energy all the women I know have expended, trying to create bubbles of protection around our bodies: cultivating brisk strides, parking under lights, carrying pepper spray, always trying to stay one step ahead of the men who would harass and rape and kill us. What might we do if we could direct that energy elsewhere? 

What would the United States look like if women killed every man who made them fear for their lives?

Is this why men kill us so frequently? Because they know what the streets would look like if we did it? 

I wish I knew the invocation that would summon the Furies. Erinuô.

Especially Tisiphone. Retribution.

The man who murdered seven people in Isla Vista, California in 2014 left behind a blood-freezing manifesto in which he chronicled every injustice done to him by the women in his life: his mother, his classmates, the nameless girls who strolled around town, heedless of his burning desire right to fuck them. 

“I concluded that women are flawed,” he wrote. “There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. Women are like a plague that must be quarantined. When I came to this brilliant, perfect revelation, I felt like everything was now clear to me, in a bitter, twisted way. I am one of the few people on this world who has the intelligence to see this. I am like a god, and my purpose is to exact ultimate Retribution on all of the impurities I see in the world.”5

What if: his name had been Ellie, and her manifesto had said:

“I concluded that men are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. Men are like a plague that must be quarantined. When I came to this brilliant, perfect revelation, I felt like everything was now clear to me, in a bitter, twisted way. I am one of the few people on this world who has the intelligence to see this. I am like a goddess, and my purpose is to exact ultimate Retribution on all of the impurities I see in the world.”

“No prayer, no sacrifice, and no tears can move [the Furies], or protect the object of their persecution.”6

Make no mistake, if Ellie had left behind that manifesto, our national conversation about gun violence would relentlessly interrogate femininity, women’s anger, and revenge.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Juno implores the Furies to punish a king and queen whose preening pride has insulted her. She journeys on a “downward path, gloomy with fatal yew trees: it leads through dumb silence to the infernal regions,” where she summons the Furies from the depths of Hell and requests vengeance upon those who have wronged her. Consider it done, says Tisiphone. Brandishing a torch and wearing a viper around her waist, she goes forth with Grief, Panic, Terror, and Madness at her side. “Stretching out her arms, wreathed with knots of vipers, she flailed her hair, and the snakes hissed at her movements. Some coiled over her shoulders, some slid over her breast, giving out whistling noises, vomiting blood, and flickering their tongues.”7

Someday, Ellie will commit a mass shooting in a male-dominated venue: a gun show, a sporting event, Congress. How will we respond when she leaves behind YouTube videos and a manifesto detailing repeated assaults by a male relative, or rape at the hands of a “friend,” or humiliating, victim-blaming skepticism from police? What if she recounts every single catcall, every uninvited grope, every obscene gesture, and every sexist comment she has ever received? What if she describes how an ex-partner posted intimate pictures of her on the internet without her consent? What if she describes being stalked by an ex-partner and dismissed for being overly cautious? What if she details the times she was silenced in a meeting at work, chastised for being too emotional, asked if she was on the rag? What if she rails at society for claiming her body as public property? What if she decides that her only recourse, her only way to reclaim power, is to pick up a gun and enact revenge on all the men who used their social privilege and physical size to remind her that she was a woman and, therefore, always less?

Tisiphone flings poisonous fluid at her victims, “those that cause vague delusions, dark oblivions of the mind, wickedness and weeping…[s]he had boiled them, mixed with fresh blood, in hollow bronze, stirred with a stalk of green hemlock.”8 Then she sets them on fire.

A conflagration reeking of testosterone, blood, metal and flesh, of entitlement and gleeful mockery: how lovely. 

Reduced to nothing.

1 Edwards, Stassa. “Dead Girls and ‘Our Sweet, Quiet Boys.”, 22 May 2018.




5 “My Twisted World.” The New York Times. 25 May 2014. 




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Megan Doney is a writer and English professor in Virginia. Her work has been published in New Limestone Review, Creative Nonfiction, Earth & Altar, and Inside Higher Ed, as well as in the anthologies Allegheny and If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings. Her essay “The Wolf and the Dog” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was a Fulbright scholar in South Africa in 2007 and returned there in 2015 to study reconciliation and violence. Megan earned an MFA from Lesley University.