Saturday, December 15, 2012

Carnage, Chaos, Catastrophe

I will always remember the day of the Columbine shooting.  It was April 20, 1999.  We were all in shock watching the now familiar pictures of children running in fear from their school, the two shooters, the parents in anguish.

I remember it because at 11:30 that night we received word that our son Paul was dead.  The initial report was that he had taken his own life and, searching for reasons to understand the un-understandable, the only precipitating incident that I could find was the Columbine shooting.  He had been severely emotionally affected by violence like that in the past (the particular violent incident I don't remember) and, as unlikely as it was, the shooting was the only thing I could come up with which might have explained what made him so depressed that he would take his own life.

Later, as we began to look at all the evidence, we came to the conclusion that this was just a stupid accident, and nothing he planned (though nothing we could say would convince the coroner of that, and his death is still officially listed as a suicide).  Nobody who knew him, or who had interacted with him in the days surrounding his death could believe that he would have killed himself at that time.

But whatever was in his mind, the last moments of his life, Paul's death and Columbine are forever linked in my mind, so much so that to this day, I can't watch any Columbine retrospectives and when we were in Denver with a group going to see a production of The Last Session in 2000 and most of the group went on a bus tour of the Denver area, which would include a stop at Columbine high school, I chose instead to stay behind and see an extra production of the musical (which turned out to be the very best decision I made).

I didn't know anybody at Columbine, I didn't know any of the children, I have had no interaction with any of the parents or the children at Columbine, but 13 years later, just the name "Columbine" sends a shiver down my spine.

And here we are with a new tragedy to cope with today.  There are homes in Connecticut where Christmas trees are decorated and gifts wrapped with care hiding surprises underneath.  There are stockings waiting to be hung for Santa.   Excited children went off to school this morning and parents waved goodbye as they went to work and nobody had any idea that they would never see each other again, that the stockings would go un-hung and the gifts unwrapped.

The 24/7 news reporters and talking heads are spouting all the same stuff again.  So sad, such a tragedy...broadcasting rumors as fact, bringing in pseudopsychiatrists to analyze the motives of a killer whose name they didn't even know yet.

It has become entirely too familiar.  I don't want tragedy...the death of innocent children and become ho-hum.  Reality TV that is all too real.  

I heard more than one commentator (and at least one psychiatrist) saying that some of these killers do this kind of thing for the fame, the notoriety, so that their names will join those of all those other famous killers.


Could we possibly discourage another would-be killer if everybody in the news media said "we've decided not to release the name of any mass murderers."   Sure we could give all the details of the killer's life and the things that may have made up the person that he was and contributed to his decision to slaughter, but keep his bloody name secret.

Everybody knows the names of Dylan Kelbold and Eric Harris...but can anybody name one child killed at Columbine? Or anywhere else where mass killings have occurred?
But we're too thirsty for every ounce of emotion we can wring from a tragedy.  Interview traumatized children about the things they've seen and heard. Now that's a swell thing to do.  

The very worst interview question I heard was a reporter who asked one of the police officers something along the line of "You were in the staging area where the parents were told of the death of their children.  Can you tell us how they're doing?  Can you describe what the scene was like?"

Good God, woman?  What a question.  She didn't get her answer, but she got her money shot, as the officer burst into tears and stammered something about "heartbreaking..." while the camera rolled in for a close-up.   Is nothing sacred?

Of course, I know what Ned is thinking as he reads this -- if people like me didn't watch this stuff, they would have no excuse to keep the cameras rolling. It's like a train wreck.  I couldn't turn the TV off.

In the midst of all the tragedy coming out of Connecticut, report of another tragedy never got any coverage that I found.  Twenty children and one adult were injured in a knife attack outside a primary school in central China.  A woman I pointed this out to was indignant that I would even mention it because those children weren't killed, but merely injured.  And they were in China, where gun laws are more strict, so attacks are done with less lethal weapons.

I want to be optimistic about this world, but I am rapidly losing all hope.

In the meantime, I feel the pain of every single one of those families for the loss of their beautiful children.

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