Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Homeowner deserves blame for setting deadly trap

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Homeowner sets trap, and a 17-year-old from Germany is killed
  • Ruben Navarrette says the homeowner deserves prosecution for his actions
  • He says it was wrong for the youth to be in the house, but that doesn't excuse shooter
  • Navarrette: Slain youth's father is wrong to blame America for "cowboy" culture

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

San Diego (CNN) -- As you have probably noticed, human beings will sometimes do dumb things. Like step onto someone else's property late at night or in the early morning hours, whether innocently or not so innocently. But that doesn't give other people license to overreact and use deadly force to kill an unarmed trespasser. The law of man says so but so does the code of common decency.

Still, when a tragedy occurs, those who grieve over the loss of loved ones are sure to find little comfort in the fact that the person who caused their pain is condemned, tried and punished. That's why the goal should be to avoid such unfortunate occurrences in the first place.

Which brings us to Montana, and a story with blame to go around and no happy ending.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

My son is only 7, but someday I'd like him to have the experience of studying abroad. Of course, I want him to be safe. So when the time comes, I'll be sure to give him some basic tips on how to stay out of harm's way.

Such as: Always be aware of your surroundings and be cautious around strangers. Don't stay out after midnight or venture into parts of a city with which you're not familiar. Don't flash money or otherwise draw attention to yourself.

Now it seems I must add one more item to the list: Don't break into someone's home, especially late at night or in the early morning hours. It's rude, because you're a guest in someone else's country. It's wrong, because you have to respect another person's property. It's probably against the law, no matter what country you're in.

It could also be dangerous. If the homeowner catches you and feels the least bit threatened, he might do whatever he feels is necessary to protect himself, his home and his family. You could get hurt or even worse.

Consider what happened to Diren Dede, a 17-year-old German exchange student who was fatally shot at a private residence in Missoula, Montana.

Dede was shot by 29-year-old homeowner Markus Kaarma after the teenager did something he should not have done: wandered uninvited into Kaarma's garage in the early morning hours.

The garage door was open, and -- according to the criminal complaint that has since been filed against Kaarma for deliberate homicide -- his companion, Janelle Pflager, intentionally left her purse out in plain view "so that they would take it." She also installed sensors and a video monitor so the couple could keep tabs on what was going on in the garage.

By "they," Pflager appeared to mean whomever happened to come along and fall into the trap. She told police that the couple had been burglarized twice in the past several weeks, and they were fed up. They wanted to catch someone in the act. They did.

According to the complaint, Kaarma -- a U.S. Forest Service firefighter -- told police that he saw images on the video monitor, grabbed his shotgun and fired four times into the garage. Dede was shot, taken to the hospital and later died from what police describe as serious injuries to his head and arm.

Dede had no business in that garage. If he had never entered it, he'd be alive today. And yet Kaarma is no hero.

This was no spontaneous act of self-defense. The homeowner was on the equivalent of a hunting trip. He laid a trap, and then waited for someone to walk into it. In fact, according to the complaint, Kaarma told the woman who cuts his hair that he had been burglarized before and that he was staying up late at night "just waiting to shoot some (expletive) kid."

The more you read about this story, the less sympathetic Kaarma becomes. He sounds like a crime victim who turned into a vigilante who was just waiting to mete out his own punishment on the next person he perceived as wronging him. But he's the one who is in the wrong.

So far, we have at least two people behaving badly. Care to make it three?

Celal Dede is the dead teenager's grieving father. He told a German news agency that the culprit in this tragedy was the gun culture in the United States.

"America cannot continue to play cowboy," Celal Dede said.

Ouch. The way the father sees it, his son was killed for simply trespassing on someone's property. The punishment didn't fit the crime, he insists.

He's right about that. Even if Diren entered the garage with the intent of stealing something as opposed to simply snooping around, he still didn't deserve to die for the transgression. The homeowner obviously got carried away. And, if convicted, he should spend the rest of his life in prison because of it.

But the father is wrong to blame the American gun culture. That's a sweeping generalization. And, as an outsider, he should tread more lightly. Not every American owns a gun. The issue isn't guns or cowboys.

Nor is the issue those notorious "stand your ground" laws. Kaarma's defense lawyers say they will invoke Montana's so-called castle doctrine, which allows use of force to ward off unlawful entry of a home if the person reasonably believes it necessary to stop an assault or prevent a felony.

The issue is responsibility. Those responsible might also include Celal Dede, the boy's father. After all, someone apparently raised this young man to believe it was fine to trespass on a stranger's home. Was it society, his peer group or his parents?

What happened in Montana was a terrible occurrence but one that could have been avoided if three people had behaved differently and made better choices.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2334 GMT (0734 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT