Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflections on the Newtown Tragedy

Almost all of us have children or will have children. We experienced the miracle of life as we first held our newborns in our arms.

We shared in their lives as they grew from the sweet, innocent and helpless newborns into adulthood. They gave meaning to our lives as they developed. We gave them our genes; we gave them life to fulfill our lives for they are our future.

Infancy, pre-school. kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduations, Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth fairy, Barbie and Tonka, T-ball, basketball, soccer, dance, music, boo-boos, awards, disappointments, braces, family vacations, Disney World, Disney movies, video games, visits to the grandparents, visits to the pediatrician, the frantic search for baby sitters, their first words, steps, stroller, tricycle, bicycle, car seats, and the dreaded car, all captured by the camera and videos.

Every night, after our children were asleep, I said Thank you God.

But not always for everyone.

Some deranged man for inexplicable reasons strikes the innocent child down. The tragedy is incomprehensible.

Parents should never have to bury their children.

Sandy Hook Elementary School was not the first; nor will it be the last such tragedy. They are almost always unpredictable and unexplainable. A young man fires 4 bullets into his mother's face, and then multiple shots into 20 first graders. You cannot understand that venomous rage.

We had an incredible, successful, highly respected colleague who succumbed to her depression last year by jumping off a building. She left her husband and two wonderful children behind. How sad! What a tragic surprise? I can't explain or understand it.

A 33 year old father hugged his two daughters when he saw them off in a school bus in 2006. Then he went to a one room Amish schoolhouse in Nickels Mill, Pennsylvania and shot 5 Amish girls to death and wounded 5 more before committing suicide.

A decade ago a crazed man driving a old, large Cadillac saw children playing in a pre-school. He accelerated his Cadillac into their play area, killing two and injuring others. He had gone off his meds. The psychiatric exam showed “he had been planning to get even for five years by killing innocent persons.” He wanted to kill as many children as possible because “that makes more news.”

Almost at the same moment as Sandy Hook, a man in China knifed almost three dozen children, paralleling three such attacks a a few years ago.

It makes no sense to the rational mind. It defies reason.

It’s not just that the killers of children deserve a special place in Hell, it’s also that they suffer from some deep unfathomable demons. Some, the Taliban and Al Qaeda for example, are crazed religious zealots, while others, such as the Nazis, are driven by ethnic hatred. Many are amoral, but several are psychotic, often off their meds.

Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168. Fifteen children died in the day care center in the building. McVeigh had no remorse. He said “Women and kids were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge. You put back [in the government’s] face exactly what they’re giving out.”

We can't understand or explain that reasoning.

On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing  conservative striking out in his mind against the left, killed 69 and wounded110 on an island in Norway. Almost all the victims were teenagers.

The cry goes out, as it always does, that we must do something to stop these tragedies.

A study by the Secret Service and the Department of Education in 2002 of 37 school violence incidents found no accurate or useful profile existed of the assailants. The attackers were almost always male, but that is about it.

We can reduce the risk, but these crazed minds will find ways. The normal security steps will not stop the crazed killer.

Columbine High School, like many schools, had a police officer on duty, but he can’t be everywhere at once.

A student at Red Lake High School on the Red Lake Indian reservation (Chippewa) in Minnesota in 2006 killed his grandparents. He then stole his grandfather’s guns (grandfather was a tribal police officer) and went to the high school. He burst through the metal detector, killed the unarmed security officer, and then 5 students and a teacher.

An evening janitor at Cal State Fullerton in 1976 went off his meds and killed 7 students.

Let me emphasize that normal security steps may be ineffective. In a non-school shooting incident in Kirkwood, Missouri in 2008 the gunman killed two police officers outside city hall, took their guns, and then entered the building, killing two council members and the director of public works.

We cry for the victims, we pray for the survivors, we improve security and practice safety drills, as with the standard fire drills, but we cannot eradicate this evil that kills the innocent children.

That we cannot remove this evil is the greatest tragedy.

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