Did a little piece of orange plastic cost 13-year-old Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa his life?
Rather, was it a missing piece of plastic — one about the size of a fingertip — that was the difference?
You know what I'm talking about, those plastic “muzzle” caps that go on the ends of toy guns to make it clear that they are not the real deal. The caps have been required under federal law for 25 years, mandated since the late 1980s to stem a rising tide of crimes being committed with toy guns.
Thus, BB guns like the one Andy was carrying as he walked down a sidewalk toward a friend's house in southwest Santa Rosa at 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday are required to come with plastic caps.
But it wasn't there when the young man turned toward two sheriff's deputies who had pulled up behind him.
And now Andy isn't here either.
Whether it was a piece of plastic or something else, what we do know is that the difference in this life-or-death moment was something small.
A turn of the body. The raising of a gun barrel. A twitch of a finger on a trigger.
And it all happened in the course of 10 seconds. Ten tragic seconds.
That was all the time, according to a chronology of events released by Santa Rosa police Thursday, that elapsed between the moment the deputies called dispatch to report a suspicious person with a rifle to the time they called back to report shots being fired.
We seem to know so much about what happened in that span of time — about how the deputies called for Andy to “put down the gun” at least twice, about how he apparently didn't obey and instead turned toward them, and about how one deputy, believing lives were in danger, fired eight rounds, striking him seven times.
And yet there's so much we don't know. For example, is it possible that Andy wasn't aware that the two deputies had pulled up behind him? Is it possible that when they called, he didn't know it was two members of law enforcement who were giving the order? Even so, is it possible he didn't know they were talking to him? After all, in Andy's mind he was carrying an airsoft rifle, a toy — not a gun.