By Heather Mullinix
I had another column written for today, but I couldn’t bring myself to publish it when I heard the news out of Connecticut Friday morning. It was a vaguely amusing look at what isn’t going to happen on Dec. 21, 2012, with the conclusion I fully expect the world to keep on turning and most of us to wake up on Saturday.
Such light-hearted stabbing at a not-going-to-happen apocalypse quickly exited my mind when I learned of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, where 26 people, mostly children, where killed in a senseless act of violence. For many parents, their world ended when a gunman walked into an elementary school and started shooting. They will never be the same. There will always be an empty place in their hearts and they will mourn, not only for their loss, but for the loss of what might have been. Those young lives were ended before these children had a chance to live, to learn, to grow. Parents have been robbed of the dream of celebrating graduations, helping their child through the pains of a first crush, family dinners talking of little league and class plays, walking their daughter down the aisle at her wedding and welcoming their children’s children into their lives.
As news of the horrific events unfolded, it was the scenes of children walking away from the school crying as they were led from the school by the Connecticut State Police that hit me like a punch in the gut. They were tiny little people who had started the day like any other kindergarten student, full of hope and joy for the day ahead. The survivors lost something Friday, too. They lost friends that will never be replaced. They lost their innocence and that can never be restored. They lost their feeling of safety and, in time, they may regain a portion of that.
We also learned about the heroic actions of teachers, custodians, students and others that likely saved other lives. When the shooting began, teachers hid their students and put themselves in harm’s way to protect their charges. A custodian ran down the halls warning classrooms of what was happening and getting them to lock their doors. The librarian kept kids safe and calm in a closet while they waited for police to arrive. The principal ran toward the gunman and tried to tackle him. She was among those killed.
On Monday, law enforcement continues to sift through the evidence and we as a nation continue to mourn. By now the shock has faded and many are wondering how to keep this from happening again.
Friday’s scene was one we’ve seen too many times in recent years. I still clearly remember the Columbine massacre in 1999, when two students killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher before committing suicide. I remember when 32 people were killed in Blacksburg, VA, at Virginia Tech. I remember 10 little Amish girls killed after a gunman took hostages in a one-room school house in 2006. I don’t want to remember any more.
In the face of such senseless violence and death, many of us shake our heads and think, “Why on earth would someone do such a thing?” We ask so that we can hopefully understand and in that understanding we might find comfort or, at least, an answer as to how to keep such a thing from happening again.
Years ago, as the newspaper staff grappled with the question “why?” Editor Michael Moser told us, “There is no way to apply logic to these situations.” And he’s right. There is no circumstance under which any person with an ounce of humanity could condone such a selfish act. That comfort we seek in asking “Why?” is not to be found. Even if we learn of the reasons this person looked to exact such an act of vengeance, it will not heal the hurt caused by his actions. It would not offer the parents of those precious children who were killed an ounce of solace.
We know a bit about the how. This person, with a history of mental illness, found access to guns, purchased legally by his mother, whom he also killed. He did not walk into the school — he forced his way into the building, subverting the security measures in place there. Knowing this, what can we do to keep our children safe in schools, where they go to learn and grow? Should we add more fences and locks and metal detectors? Do we need tougher gun laws? Or should be arming our teachers so they can fire back? Did our society fail to offer help for mental illness? Were there signs that someone could have spotted in the weeks leading up to the shooting that could have tipped them off? Was there more that could have been done? The talking heads will discuss these questions and more in the coming weeks and, maybe, they’ll offer some suggestions for moving forward. I’ll leave that to them. I don’t have the answers. I wish I did.
What I do know is life is precious. And fleeting. To the families that lost someone Friday, you are in my prayers. To everyone else, hug your kids a little tighter, tell those you care about how much they mean to you and don’t let an opportunity to spend time with them pass you by.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.