by Faran Fagen
My daughter points to the gunman and asks, “Is that a bad man?”
We watch the terrible news unfold at the school shooting just minutes away, not realizing Blair has entered the living room.
I stare at her green eyes. It’s a yes or no question. But it’s not simple. Or concrete, like when we play Candyland and you pick the Lollipop card and take that spot on the board.
Instead of answering Blair, I’m silent. I think of the many school shootings that have rocked our nation since Columbine in 1999, most of which Blair, 5 years old, never heard of.
The strip at the bottom of the television reads 17 dead at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen. One of the worst school shootings on record in a city known as the safest in Florida. The 18th school shooting of 2018, and it’s only Valentine’s Day.
I tell Blair that a sad, angry man hurt people and will go to jail, and that seems to satisfy her curiosity for the moment. Then I think of the 17 families that lost a daughter or son, and that hollow feeling returns to my stomach. The same punch to the gut every time I hear about another shooting.
So I do what I do when I get that sick feeling. I write. Get thoughts on paper. To try and make some sense.
I hammer it into my head. Yes, it happened at Douglas, the pride of Parkland, a community known for close-knit families. Where I have friends. It also happened a few years ago at a Connecticut elementary school full of innocent children.
If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
If you’re like me, with every news bulletin in the last year that there’d been another senseless shooting, your stomach clenches. First thought: please no fatalities. Second thought: How could anyone do this? Third thought: Is this ever going to end?
According to reports, since the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, there has been an average of at least one school shooting per week.
So how do we stop it?
Fingers have pointed at violent video games and movies, mental illness, gangs, terrorism plots, cyberbullying, revenge, sparse gun control and social media gone wrong. To name a few.
Unlike the cards in Candyland, the answer isn’t easy. But I know this – every attacker in every shooting shares the fact they felt alone or alienated somehow. Shunned, ignored, humiliated, bullied, isolated.
The two killers in the Columbine shootings were constantly harassed and bullied, and one of them wrote in his journal about his hatred for the human race.
Another shooting occurred in 2007 that killed 32 people on Virginia Tech’s campus. Picked on by other students at a young age, the shooter was described by his college professors as a troubled loner.
The shooter of the Newtown massacre was described in various articles as friendless and isolated.
Some of these tragedies contained heroes like Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, who hid students in a closet and died trying to shield them from bullets. It’s already being reported that Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach at Douglas, died shielding students from gunfire.
Every time a shooting happens, I look at pictures of the slain and that knot tightens in in my stomach.
In December of 2012, the media posted picture after picture of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook. The children look so happy in those pictures. Their entire future ahead of them. I swallow hard thinking that those kids will never experience their graduation, or even their first kiss.
Those 20 kids’ moms and dads had to bury their own children – an act too terrible to imagine.
All because of attackers so utterly lost that they resort to the unthinkable.
It used to be okay to feel alone. In Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Suess says alone is something you’ll be quite a lot. But in the end you’ll succeed, “98 ¾ percent guaranteed”.
Now, being alone is a crisis. Somehow, we’ve lost our ability to cope. And have hope for someone utterly abandoned from the American dream of love and family that’s supposed to be so easy to reach.
As I kiss my daughter good night, I look deep into her green eyes. She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tight. She’s tucked safely under the covers. The television is still on in the other room, recounting the day’s carnage.
Yes, Blair, there are bad men in the world. Lost, hopeless, desperate, and alone bad men. Some live nearby, and I can’t always protect you from them. And I’ll never be the same.