Friday, July 20, 2012

Flashbacks to Columbine

Secundus went to a midnight showing of Dark Knight Rises with friends today.  I slept well, woke up early enough to catch the end of the Tour de France stage of the day, and was mildly surprised to see Secundus out of bed before 9:00 a.m.  He was checking out reviews of the movie, which he said was the best yet, when he found and told me the news about the horrific shooting in Aurora, CO himself.  At least I never had to worry about him.  At least I was able to do ordinary things with him today, like going on a practice drive, helping him clean up after he spilled gasoline on his clothes while pumping gas for me, and trying to understand why he likes movies with dark themes so much.

Thirteen years ago last April, I was 4 months pregnant with Tertia, just beginning to come out of the haze of hyperemesis and contemplating the pros and cons of trying to eat Thai food.  We had just moved from a 3-bedroom house to a 4-bedroom house in suburban Littleton, Colorado.  It had a finished basement that we planned to use for quilting and homeschooling (I was still under the delusion that they were compatible) and it had a nicely landscaped yard with a playhouse and small swingset.  I used to let the little boys, 4 and 2, play in the backyard while I concentrated on trying not to barf.  There was an interesting odor in the house: not bad, but not really good for one in my condition either.  I think it was maybe old wood polish.  Once the doorbell rang and a kind passerby informed me that she was worried about my little boy (that would be Secundus).  "He's on the roof of the playhouse!"  As if it wasn't one of the safer places for him to be, actually.

On that particular day, I can't remember where I first heard the news about the Columbine High School shooting.  It was either TV or radio, both of which I used to have on in the background to try to occupy my mind so I wouldn't think about how wretched I felt.  They broke into the regular programming with the first reports: shooting at the school, less than 2 miles away; breaking news had reports of escaped perpetrators in the nearby park, possibly at large in the community.  I brought the boys back in from the yard and pulled down the blinds.  We could hear helicopters circling for the rest of the day and into the night.  Reports of fatalities began trickling in as I stayed glued to the TV.  I needed to understand the sequence of events, but that didn't happen for days until the newspapers pieced it together for me.  A reporter from World magazine called and asked if I knew any of the victims, but none went to our church.  I was able to point her in the direction of some of the churches I had heard were affected through my day of watching the coverage, one of them being Cassie Bernall's church.  I remember being upset that the first responders hung back for so long while evaluating the situation, and left people bleeding and dying inside the school.  It does appear that first responders in this situation have had the benefit of training post-Columbine.  People may be alive now as a result, and that is something to be thankful for.

I know at least one family affected by the shooting: a young girl, whom I remember as an even younger girl at the church we attended in Colorado, is hospitalized after taking 4 bullets, one still lodged in the back of her skull.  Please pray for Petra, that her family will once more be able to enjoy doing ordinary things with her.

There is a sense of helplessness in a tragedy like this, but for a thinking person, there is also a desperate need to make sense of it.  For the community at large, it is devastating.  The long-term effects are more subtle than the immediate aftermath, but no less profound.  I find myself thinking back to that April day today, and remembering how thankful I was to be moving out of Colorado a few months afterwards, even though it did mean a second move in one difficult pregnancy and a great deal of disruption.  I'm just as irritated as I was then by the attempts to politicize a tragedy, to posture on gun control or violent video games.  But I do feel very sad, each time something like this happens, that our society has so few mechanisms to stage an intervention for a troubled young person before a tragedy.  His own mother reportedly suspected him immediately.  We'll learn more in the coming days, but I suspect that, like the shooting in Arizona, there were clear warning signs above and beyond the shooter's clean criminal record.  Perhaps our society, without sacrificing the freedoms that we cherish (above all else?), could come up with ways of identifying individuals who are a danger to themselves or others, and acting appropriately to prevent them from carrying out that threat.

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