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So many questions

Wingham Advance-Times editorial

The news of a multiple shooting in a Connecticut junior elementary school last week left people reeling in horror – 28 dead, most of them children, and several injured.

News is still sketchy as the police investigation continues, but it appears one of the dead is the killer; another is his mother. News reports indicate he murdered her, then went to the school, forced his way inside and started killing staff and children. He was armed to the teeth with firearms said to belong to his mother, including two handguns and an assault rifle.

This crime hits everyone close to home, especially at a time of year when thoughts are on family and the joyous celebration only days away. When we read about dozens of little kids getting brutally murdered, we can easily picture ourselves standing with that panicky group of parents, holding our breath but not our tears, waiting for news about our own little ones. Our hearts ache for families whose children are among the dead, for the families of the teachers who were killed. Our hearts also ache for the shocked survivors who witnessed things no little kids should ever see – friends, schoolmates and teachers hunted down and shot dead.

We wonder how many years of counseling it will take before a five-year-old can sleep again after seeing his best friend murdered by a monster with a gun. We wonder how many Christmases will pass before holiday concerts and beautifully lit trees stop triggering nightmares.

Most of all we wonder what led the killer to target innocent little children. Experts are already speculating about his motives, his state of mental health (or lack thereof), his family background. It is as if they, and we are trying to find something unique in this crime that will make everyone feel safe. However, there is no way to know what kind of fury so fill his heart that he decided to kill his mother and dozens of happy little kids just before Christmas. He took that information to the grave.

He is not the first person to shoot kids at a school, both here in North America and abroad. Schools have long been favoured targets of terrorists in such places as Afghanistan for many reasons – brutally murdering a bunch of little kids is a fiendishly effective way to strike at the heart of an entire community. In addition, schools are relatively safe targets, without armed guards and razor wire.

We know that discussion is once again buzzing south of the border about the need for gun control. No matter what the “right to bear arms” people say, it has become clear the United States has got to do something about the proliferation of handguns in that country. Their rhetoric that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, makes no sense. A similar crime in China, where a man armed with an axe went into a school, resulted in injuries, not deaths.

We have also heard considerable discussion about the tremendous need for mental health resources, and we wonder if more would have helped. Was the killer sick or evil? How do you treat evil?

Conversation in the days that followed the rampage has frequently touched on the role violent video games might have played. As others have in similar mass murders, this particular killer dressed himself like a cartoon commando, and shot to rack up as high a score as he could, as if his targets were game pieces, not real little children. Do these games play on the minds of troubled young men and in essence train them to kill without mercy or empathy?

These questions need to be asked, and answered – by us, by society as a whole, and by our governments. But the question that weighs heaviest on our hearts is how can we help those devastated families. In a tragedy like this, national borders and distance become meaningless. Divisions and differences are erased. We are humans, parents with children of our own, grandparents. We want to reach out and provide whatever comfort we can – as if anything could comfort a family whose six-year-old has just been murdered by a vicious, gun-toting monster. We want to tell those people they are in our prayers, that we would give them a shoulder to cry on, or an arm to lean on, if we could.

We want to tell them we will vow to speak of kindness as an admirable trait, and erase such phrases as “going for the kill” in contexts of business or sports from our vocabularies. We want to tell them we will strive to make more room in our culture for the cultivation of such values as ethics and decency, for sympathy and empathy, for goodness and sticking up for what is right.

We want to tell them we will do whatever is in our power, individually and collectively, to make this world safe for children.

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