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The Silence of the Innocents

Author: Randall D. Larson, Editor, 9-1-1 Magazine

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-12-14
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In what can only be described as a continuing epidemic of mass killings by disturbed and enraged individuals upon the most innocent of persons, perhaps the latest mass shooting event prompts the most inconsolable heartbreak yet.

According to the latest figures at hand, 27 people – 20 of them children – twenty of them: children – were slain in a massacre of spraying bullets and terrifying violence this morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Already designated the second-deadliest school shooting in US history, the incomprehensible annihilation of mostly kindergarten-age children was the work of a 20-year old gunman who wore black military gear and was armed with a pair of handguns registered to his mother.  Earlier, the gunman had shot and killed his mother before escalating his violence in a spree of gunfire aimed at the school children before turning the gun on himself.

The event quickly swarmed online social networks as messages of sympathy, outrage, shock, and grief poured from astonished friends and friends-of-friends.  Then came the inevitable and unhelpful vitriol of blame toward one political issue or another and the debate over gun control and mental illness control raged scattershot throughout the cybernetworks of modern social intercourse.  I stopped reading before political and religious leaders began to make their predictable edicts and tried to simply conceive of the enormity of the event – what it means to our country, what it means to the public safety responders of Newtown, Connecticut (who faced perhaps their biggest challenge in responding to and gathering up the mass casualties at Sandy Hook, desperately trying to save lives), and what it means to some forty or so parents whose worst day came in a shower of bullets in the bright comfort of a kindergarten classroom.

When I wrote about the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, I titled my editorial “Spinning, Spinning, Spinning,” because that was my first thought after hearing about the shooting of a dozen kids and a teacher at their school in Littleton, Colorado.  It seemed to me the world – our violence-prone society - was spinning out of control.  That was a baker’s-dozen years in the past, and we seem to be spinning ever faster.

Now, Columbine is ranked only the fifth-deadliest mass murder committed on a United States school campus (third-deadlest school shooting after Sandy Hook and 2007’s Virginia Tech in which 32 were slain; Charles Whitman’s murderous rampage from a University of Texas tower in 1966, killing 13 and inaugurating the concept of “mass murder,” is ranked fourth).  The increasing frequency (the term “regularity” may even be apply) of these kind of events (in non-campus terms, it’s sobering to remember that it’s been a scant five months since the last major mass shooting, in a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, occurred) suggests that these kind of rage-fueled murder sprees have indeed become a kind of epidemic of violence upon our blood-spattered national landscape. What was once unthinkable is becoming the everyday – as if we’re living in a war-torn battlefield in which no refuge can be considered safe.

Reality check: peruse the Wikipedia list of school shootings in the USA and take in its ignoble roster of violence, the legacy of campus killings perpetrated by disturbed, angry, or vengeful individuals, and the abundant loss of promising students and adult mentors and administrators from our nation’s population.

Beyond my grief for the children and families of Newtown is a deep concern for the public safety responders of Newtown and the police, fire, and EMS dispatchers (they may call them telecommunicators in New England) who shared their response and its aftermath.  The first on scene, needing to ascertain in a hurry what was happening and secure the scene and the suspect in order to let EMS personal begin triaging, treating and transporting the wounded, and the investigators and command officers who would follow, and the cadre of support systems and services… Our hearts should be with them as well, for they have witnessed a tragedy of incalculable personal catastrophe which may well haunt them for a long time to come.  I am hoping they receive the support to help them weather the storm that harbors within remembrance of today’s events – and this includes their dispatchers who may not have witnessed directly but felt the event just as keenly in the voices of 9-1-1 callers and response units from the scene.  They were supporting each of the responders by relaying vital information, trying to reassure panicked callers while gathering information to manage a quick, safe, informed, and well-documented emergency response.

I am also concerned about our country’s young children, who have been or will eventually be exposed to the horrors of December 14, and who may likely experience fear as a result.  Parents and school counselors will be busy for the next few weeks throughout our country as they try and explain and assuage the very real fear of our nation’s kids.  One of the many postings going around the Internet in the wake of today’s massacre included a statement attributed to famed children’s television host Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  He is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” 

If there is anything positive about the horror of children being shot down in their classroom, perhaps it is this: in the midst of the calamity, there were people who came to help, who tried their best to save lives and comfort the fallen, and there will be more who will come to support the aching hearts and anguished lamentation.  Awful things happen unbidden, evil people exist and we try and avoid them and be safe from them, but good people do their best to keep us safe and help us when we’ve been hurt.

In the midst of our grief, may we remember to salute these helpers and be thankful for what they do even in the face of inconceivable calamity.

Related Stories at 9-1-1 Magazine:

Spinning, Spinning, Spinning: The Columbine Massacre

The Shooting at Virginia Tech

School Violence: Concerns for First Responders

Innocent Blood: Shots Fired in Newtown

Active Shooting Response: The Call-taker's Role

The Dark Mind Descends: the Aurora Movie Shootings

Images collected from postings on Facebook, included here as examples of shared sentiment.


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