How often have we judged someone by the last bad act they committed?
Remembered their life ending in an act of rage?
Rolled our eyes as we read newspaper articles or watched TV shows about someone who “snapped” and dismissed them as being crazy?
Labeled that person for the one last despicable thing they did in their otherwise extremely rich life?
My law school classmate and friend, Mario Simoes, recently died following a shootout with police.
These events happened in my hometown of DeLand, Florida.
According to news reports, Mario drove to his wife’s law firm in his Mercedes-Benz and, intoxicated, began shooting at the building. When police arrived in response to a 911 call, Mario embarked on a high-speed chase with the police on DeLand’s back roads, reaching speeds of 100 m.p.h. His vehicle became disabled after he struck a couple who was leaving a Lowe’s home improvement store (luckily, neither of these individuals were injured).
Police purportedly advised Mario to “drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun” for two minutes until they opened fire, as they believed he was reloading his gun in the vehicle. He was killed.
Mario was 45 years old.
I have known Mario for over a decade and, while we lost touch over the years, he was not the type of person I ever imagined would do something like this.
He’s actually one of the last people.
The shooting was all over the local news.
Just another crazy man with a gun who appeared to be on a murder-suicide mission.
Newspaper articles claim Mario and his wife, also an attorney, were having marital problems and she moved out of their home the week before. Engulfed in despair, he showed up at their shared law practice with a gun and began shooting at the exterior windows from his vehicle.
These events are shocking.
I have been emotionally tied to Mario and his wife, Kim, since mid 2006 when they adopted my family dog, Scout.
Mario wasn’t just someguyIwenttolawschoolwith.
He was special and we were connected.
As background, my parents got divorced when I was in law school and moved to places where they could not have pets. My sister and I were students and unable to care for a dog. This left us with needing to find a new home for our family dog, a rat terrier named Scout.
We got Scout in 1998 when he was ten weeks old. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school and we put in all the work and training that comes with having a puppy.
Scout was a great dog and we loved him. When deciding on his new living situation, we thought long and hard about who would take him. One of my best friends, who was living in New York City, offered to adopt him. Like most young and ambitious New Yorkers, she worked long hours and my gut told me that she and Scout would not work out. Another friend asked her mother to take him, but the mother was having health issues and it was not the perfect fit. None of our options felt right, but dropping him off at the Humane Society was never an option because we wanted to maintain control over where he would go.
One day after my law school contracts class was over, I ran into Mario in the outdoor study area. Knowing that he was a huge dog lover, I went out on a limb and blabbered: “Hey Mario, do you and Kim want another dog?”
Whatever, all he can do is say no, I thought to myself.
I explained the situation with needing to re-home Scout and Mario immediately took an interest, despite already having four dogs at home and despite that he never laid his eyes on Scout.
This worked out perfectly. Mario and his wife lived in my hometown and Mario coordinated a time for my dad to bring Scout to their house to meet Kim. She would decide whether Scout could stay there, as Mario was away at law school in Gainesville and she would be Scout’s primary caretaker until Mario graduated.
In sum, Mario and Kim ended up adopting Scout and they gave him a wonderful life. In fact, they gave Scout a better life than my family would have given him if he never needed to leave our home in the first place. Mario and Kim lived in a beautiful house on a large piece of property where Scout had plenty of room to run around. He had four new doggie brothers and sisters to keep him company while Kim was working during the day. He had a swimming pool and an air conditioned dog house that was fancier than some peoples’ real houses. He got to travel to cool places like the Bahamas on the Simoes’ private plane.
Scout had it made.
After graduation, Mario and I kept in touch. He constantly updated me about Scout and how much he, Kim, and the other dogs were all enjoying him. Then, in August of 2014, Mario informed me that Scout passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 16. He had a long and fulfilling life, and Mario and Kim were sure going to miss him.
When reading Mario’s message of Scout’s death, I felt a mix of sadness and gratitude. Sadness about the loss, but gratitude about Mario and Kim’s kindness in welcoming Scout into their home during my family’s own time of grief over the end of my parents’ marriage.
As the years passed, Mario and I would occasionally touch base with each other on social media. I followed his adventures that included flying his plane to exotic cities and embarking on high-stakes adventures.
Mario was more than an attorney, husband, and friend. His story is remarkable.
Born in Venezuela, Mario relocated to Portugal with his family as a child and eventually graduated 1st in his class at the Portuguese Air Force Academy. He began his career as a military pilot and, later, as a commercial pilot for a major airline. He graduated 2nd in our law school class of 208 graduates at the University of Florida. He was an exceptional writer, which was especially impressive considering English was not his first language. He was a member of The Florida Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Mario was also an accomplished mountain climber. He recently completed the “Seven Summits Challenge” by climbing to the top of the seven highest places on Earth. In addition to Mt. Everest, Mario climbed to the top of the highest mountain in each of the six other continents: Puncak Jaya in New Guinea, Vinson in Antarctica, Elbrus in Europe, Aconcagua in South America, Denali in North America, and Kilimanjaro in Africa.
His next adventure was going to be the Explorers Grand Slam, which involved skiing to both the North and South Poles. He was supposed to start this challenge in April of 2017, when he would be flown to a block of ice in Norway, 70 miles from the North Pole, where he would ski over difficult terrain until he reached the pole.
Mario didn’t make it to April.
In the week preceding his death, Mario published a series of daunting status updates on his Facebook account.
March 14, 2017, at 5:24 p.m.:
It’s scary what a smile can hide.
March 14, 2017, at 8:11 p.m.:
I have descended to a very dark place.
I believe Mario’s last status updates were cries for help.
I did not reach out to him because I did not see the status updates until after he died, but I am not sure whether or how I would have responded if I would have seen them before it was too late.
I can tell you how I will respond in the future.
I will reach out to people who need it. I will not be deterred by the fear of prying into someone’s personal life. I will show people who I love that I love them. I will tell them that I care. I will give them compassion even if it is not convenient.
People are people. We all have struggles. I haven’t seen Mario or Kim in nearly a decade and certainly don’t know the inner workings of their marriage but, based on my own experience, marriage can be really hard.
Life can be hard.
Love can be hard.
It is painful to think that Mario, despite all of his worldly experiences and possessions, spent the last days of his life in, as he described it, “a very dark place.”
I don’t know the man who shot up his wife’s law firm and fled from police.
Nobody knows that man.
It wasn’t Mario.
The Mario I love and remember adopted and cared for my dog in my family’s time of crisis. He was a true friend who was respected among our peers. He was adventurous, kind, smart, ambitious and authentic.
That is the man I will choose to remember.
The Mario I knew was not the man who shot at his wife’s law office and he was not the man who was killed by police officers.
That is not the man I will remember.
I refuse to remember him by his last bad act.
Mario made his final ascent into the clouds on March 19, 2017. I hope that flight was more beautiful than the view from Mt. Everest, more satisfying than time with his beloved dogs, and filled him with all the love and warmth he ever lacked.
Godspeed, Mario. You were a treasure who will be missed.
Cheers to you.