07/15/2014 02:04 EDT | Updated 09/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Everyday Heroes (For Nathan)


Yesterday, our city - the entire country really - got the news no one wanted to hear.

Two weeks ago, on another sunny, Monday morning, Jennifer O'Brien went to pick up her 5-year-old son Nathan from her parents' home where he had spent the night. As we all know by now, neither Nathan nor his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, were anywhere to be found. The police issued an Amber Alert for all three and an immense investigation ensued.

The police have spent the past fourteen days searching landfills and a rural property just north of Calgary for clues. More than 900 tips poured in. Little Nathan's smiling face was everywhere. Though it diminished as the days passed, everyone had hope that all or one would be found alive.

Then yesterday, our stoic and compassionate Chief of Police Rick Hanson stood in front of the television cameras and announced that the Amber Alert had been discontinued. The evidence they had compiled was enough that they, along with the Crown Prosecutor's Office, had determined that the three were dead and charges of first-degree and second-degree murder were pending against an individual they had arrested earlier that morning.

And he admitted that in doing so, they had taken that hope away from the family. Away from all of us.

(To his credit, and for the benefit of those of you who are not fortunate enough to know Chief Hanson, I do not believe that giving that news to the family was an easy decision for him to make.)

There are many heavy hearts in our city, and many tears have been shed. We may not have known them, but we grieve. We all want to wrap the family in as much love as we can. That a little boy should have found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time is tragic enough, but that this "wrong place" was a home where he felt safe, where he spent so much time with people he loved and who loved him back makes it even more difficult for us to understand.

When stuff like this happens, often the most heart-wrenching task is how to explain it to the youngest among us in a way that doesn't fill them with fear. For many no explaining is necessary; because Nathan wasn't a direct part of our life we can withhold the information, wrap our kids in security blankets both literal and figurative, and go about our daily business.

Unfortunately, there are many young people in our community whose parents won't have that luxury. I am talking about Nathan's brothers, the children he went to Kindergarten with, and what I imagine are many, many friends and relatives. The person who allegedly took the life of Nathan and his grandparents has also taken their innocence. They now know that evil exists in their world, and that makes me very, very sad.

But this means the rest of us have a job to do. It is a difficult job but it is important.

We have to make sure that these kids know that there is more good in the world than evil. We need to do our best to teach them that while there may be dark days, good will ultimately triumph. They will have plenty of time to get cynical and anxious and fearful when they're older. Right now they need to feel safe and be reminded of all the good. All of us need to become those "helpers" that Mr. Rogers spoke of.

A few days after her parents and son had gone missing, Jennifer O'Brien stood in front of the television cameras and told us how Nathan loved dressing up as a Superhero. She said that they had stopped buying him clothes because all he wanted to do was wear Superhero costumes. I'm not saying you have to wear a costume (though you definitely can if you want to), but we have the power to bring light to people who are experiencing a dark time right now.

When everyone is asking, "What can I do?" we can do this. We can remind them that they are not alone; we might not save the day, but we can make the day's load easier to bear.

We can be everyday superheroes. For Nathan. For his family. For all of us.

Nathan O'Brien, Grandparents Missing