Yesterday I watched the documentary Dear Zachary. I watched it with full knowledge that this film has a tendency to tear people to pieces. I knew the entire story before watching it; It’s horrible. On paper though, it is no more horrible than the Andrea Yates case, or most of the true crime cases I’ve read over the years.
I went through a phase when I was sixteen/seventeen where all I read were true crime books; I read about Adam Walsh, Brandon Teena, Shanda Sharer, among others. The were all unique cases, and all of them thought provoking. Dear Zachary is an entirely different beast. Its on film, with animate imagery of the victims, interviews with officials and parents, but these features aren’t at all what make the film so affective; if it ended with this, it would be no more moving than an episode of Dateline.
Dear Zachary was made by a guy whose best friend was murdered. He wanted to compile interviews with his friends and loved ones, everyone who had ever known his friend, to commemorate his life. It turned into an effort to help a little boy know the father he will never meet face to face. And it evolves one last time to make sure you lose any and all faith in humanity and the justice system. It became a catalyst for major change.
I knew the story before hand, I knew how it would unfold, but god almighty that did not stop the tears. Literally halfway through the movie, I was sobbing uncontrollably on my couch. I was holding my 2 year old son in my arms, who fell asleep there before the movie started. I would hold him and kiss him because he was there with me, and because I didn’t know what I would do with myself if that weren’t the case.
You know what did it? I had no idea that the documentarian had actually met Zachary. Seeing him there holding that adorable little baby boy, the only thing left of his best friend, broke me inside. Watching videos of that beautiful little boy play and get kisses from all of these people who loved him so much, knowing what happened to him a few weeks later…I couldn’t. I still can’t. I’m still crying, you guys.
The film was made with so much love. Most true crime documentaries are factual and calculating; more sensational than heartwarming. The people interviewed are usually chief investigators and journalists. Every person featured in this movie knew the victim and were all grieving for the loss of their friend. They were all reeling at the ultimate outcome. They all laughed while remembering the good times. You could feel their love and their grief. They were all family, even if they were only mutual friends beforehand. This is what made the movie so damn remarkable.
David and Kathleen Bagby had literally everything taken away from them. Their only child was murdered. They were given a glimmer of hope when they found out their son unknowingly fathered a child. Since the mother of the child was their son’s killer, they were going to raise him. And then that was taken away. Permanently. No more chances. How did they go on? If it hadn’t have been the fact that they could change things and make sure this doesn’t happen again to someone else’s family. They are so incredibly resilient.
This film achieved all of its goals. I came away so incredibly angry at the Canadian justice system’s failure to protect Zachary Turner when it was obvious he was in danger. I grieved for the Bagby’s incredible loss. I cried with them. I believe the world lost someone truly special in Andrew Bagby. Kurt Kuenne did a great job of portraying his friends in a most positive light. David and Kathleen Bagby seem like the kindest, most generous people on the block; the kind that bake Christmas cookies and invite all the neighborhood kids over to eat them. This could all be the magic of filmmaking; for all I know, they could all be real jerks that don’t tip and give you dirty looks if your kid throws a fit at the grocery store. I don’t believe that. I don’t want to believe that, and you can’t make me. I feel lucky to know that these people exist and can go on in this world after everything they have been through, and have been able to change the way things happen for others.
But I still never, ever want to watch that movie again. It may be one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, but I still don’t ever want to experience it again. I want others to watch it. I want others to learn. But please don’t invite me over to watch with you. Please.
Watch it streaming on Netflix.
Then watch the epilogue. It doesn’t really help make you feel better, but it is good to see.