Monday, December 17, 2012

Thinking and not thinking about the Connecticut shootings

As I thought and read postings over the weekend, I figured I just wouldn't post anything on the tragic shooting in Connecticut last Friday. What more is there to say that hasn't been said? It was horrible. I always try to stay middle ground and hear all sides. And I try to really listen and put myself in that situation and try to understand all sides as best as I can and see where that opinion is coming from.

On Friday morning my husband was on a field trip at a downtown museum with my 2nd grader and I was at home on deadline writing my Sunday column as I'd flip back and forth between Facebook and my Word document. It was on Facebook that I started seeing status updates about a school shooting in Connecticut. The first few posts said some kids were injured. The posts kept getting worse. I kind of froze and read a little bit. I wanted more information, but when there's such a tragedy I sometimes don't want the information. I don't want to know of more evil in the world and would prefer to be insulated in a bubble of disbelief and I don't want to feed into that desire for sensationalism that is arguably part of the problem in such mass murders.

I finally got my column e-mailed and then turned on the television where snapshots of families running from the school with children in hand were replayed. My 18-year-old sat at watched with me for a few minutes before he went off to work. Many of the first posts and reports I saw turned out to be false. As my heart was breaking for the parents of these kids, the staff at the school and the families of everyone involved and everyone in that community, I thought about the family of the shooter, too, and what kind of anguish they were going through, especially the older brother who was initially identified as the gunman. In one unimaginable act by a very troubled young man, so many lives are forever changed.

I don't want to debate things. In times of tragedy, I often am uncomfortable by the instant need to place blame and to spread it around among many. I tend to focus more on the victims and their qualities and the efforts of those coming to aid. But there is blame in such a situation and there has to be accountability. There is someone who committed a crime. I wish the blame could stop there, but it doesn't. Blame gets extended to the shooter's family who are somehow expected to have foreseen something so awful. Some say blame goes to the school for not doing more to prevent it. Others blame guns - either that they are too easy to get or that they aren't easy enough to get. Some say the media causes it by making the names of mass murderers household names.

I'm not going to jump on the blame game. There are other places I'd rather put my energy, like into my family, which includes a 7-year-old not much different from those precious first graders who lost their lives on Friday. But I do think that our country has ignored the need to care for those with mental illness. In a country that is a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities and we embrace and care for immigrants, legal or otherwise, we sometimes overlook those who have a great need for help.

I've known people who have spent time in mental institutions of the past, the terrifying places where shock therapy was the norm and where it might not have been so hard to have someone committed without an actual professional diagnosis. We by no means should return to those days. Those with mental illnesses are human and are loved by people who want to help them and are sometimes able to make it in the world with the support of others. I don't have any experience in the field of psychology that could justify me making any kind of recommendation of how mental illness should be handled. I do know, however, that mental health facilities are shrinking and in an attempt to incorporate and integrate everyone into society, some who are truly disturbed and in need of intensive care don't get it. It seems there'd be more of a middle ground, somewhere between the Hellish institutions of the past and in simply putting people in need of care out into a world they aren't equipped to be in. And even if we get there someday, where we have long-term solutions to care for our mentally ill, would it be enough to prevent such senseless acts as we've seen in recent years?

And the profile of the shooter in this situation seems to run similar to many other recent shootings. White males in their teens or early 20's. Loners. Extremely intelligent. Withdrawn. Shy. Not many friends. I can't tell you how many young guys in the world fit that description. They're not all going to turn and do something so extreme. But what do we need to do to change it? What can be done early on in the lives of these kids that could prevent such a thing.

Ironically, my kids' schools had a drill just last week on what to do if there's an intruder in the school. I'm thankful for that proactive step they took. When they did the drill, you knew they were doing it because it has happened elsewhere and it could happen here, but there's always that touch of denial that it won't happen. I thought about the layout of the new school, which is still unfinished with continuing construction. I thought about where the classrooms are now situated and where the main entrance is now situated and that there are rooms without a window to escape through. You can't help but visualize it happening where your kids go to school.

With every shooting, the world loses more innocent people and those who remain lose yet more of a world where innocence exists. This won't be the last. As long as there are people. And as long as there are weapons they can use. And as long as there are individuals that feel that this is how they will leave their mark, there will still be violence. I wonder really what might have been done to change the outcome. Could the shooters family done more to provide treatment? Could they have looked closer for signs? How can you predict that someone will do something like this? Could the school have had more precautionary measures? Would the outcome have been different if the mother didn't own any guns? There are lots of unanswered questions we can never know the answers to. And on one hand, you can't help but think that when someone has that intent, they're going to do it and find a way to do it. Maybe under different circumstances he would have killed 4 instead of 26. It would still be too many. Or maybe little things at pivotal moments would have caused it not to be.

I'm avoiding watching and reading about it. I feel for the families. I respect all those that are doing what they can to help. Right now I just can't look at the face of any more children knowing what their last moments entailed.

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