Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Of course there have been other horrific school shootings in the past, but the Sandy Hook School shooting on Friday December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut affected me more deeply than any other for a couple of reasons. This time it was an elementary school and most of the victims were younger than ever (six years old). Also this time I'm a Mom and listening to the story as a parent makes it that much more disturbing. It's a parent's worst nightmare to have something happen to your child. Your child is the most precious thing in your life. My heart goes out to the families of the victims. I can't begin to imagine how they can cope with this horrible tragedy. You drop your kids off at school in the morning. Then you get a message on your phone that there's been a shooting at their school. You rush there frantically, not knowing what to expect. You wait helplessly for news. You watch as other parents are reunited with their kids who had been evacuated safely. Then you are told that if you haven't been reunited with your child, you won't be, ever again. Though authorities hadn't identified the victims (a process that was going to take many more hours to accomplish) it was obvious to distraught parents that their missing children were among the victims inside the school.

Normally I don't watch the news (I can't stand doom and gloom. It's depressing and makes me feel helpless. The news is always bad news. It's all negative. I try to focus on the beauty of life, not the darkness) but when this story broke it was everywhere. I had Dr. Oz on TV while I was nursing Michelle and suddenly saw a banner at the bottom of the screen saying there had been a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. An ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?! What the?! I tuned in to CNN to hear the full story. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could someone shoot children? Even the most cold-blooded of killers throughout history usually choose adult victims. Children are so innocent. To even think of harming them is beyond despicable which is why even among criminals it is believed that anyone who hurts a child (a pedophile for example) is vile, detestable and deserves to be punished accordingly (in prison they often have to be separated from other inmates who might beat or kill them.) To harm a child is unthinkable. It's beyond evil. Even the most hardened criminals know that.

All I kept thinking was "Why?!" Reporters were asking the same thing, wondering what possible motive there could be for someone to forcibly enter a school and murder 20 children and 6 adults? No one seemed to have an answer. Only one or two people may have been able to answer that (the shooter and his mother) and they're no longer alive to ask.

Later I searched online to see what I could find out about the gunman.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, was 20 years old. He had killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, a retired teacher from Sandy Hook, in her home then drove her car to the school where he shot the principal, a psychologist, other staff and a large number of students aged 6-7 years old with his mother's high powered rifle before finally killing himself. The guns (a Bushmaster .223 caliber high powered rifle which was used in the murders, as well as a Glock 10 mm and Sig Sauer 9 mm found onscene) were registered to his mother. His parents were divorced. His father and older brother Ryan lived out of town (apparently he had 24 year old Ryan's identification on him which led investigators to believe his brother was the killer at first). He lived in a nice home. People described him as intelligent (some even called him a genius), quiet, mild-mannered and polite. Others referred to him as awkward, socially inept and withdrawn. Apparently he had Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. The disorder is marked by difficulty communicating and a lack of empathy which can make social interaction a challenge. This certainly in no way explains how he would be driven to senselessly kill a class full of children and educators. There is no evidence that Asperger's leads to violent crime. Others suggested that he had a personality disorder. It's hard to say if he may have been suffering from another mental illness (such as schizophrenia) which hadn't been diagnosed. One would think there must have been some warning signs. He had no criminal record but there must have been some red flags in his behaviour. You don't wake up one day and become a killer. I read that his mother was no longer working so that she could be home with Adam to take care of him. Obviously his mother was aware he had issues but presumably didn't know how bad it was. If she had known what a danger he was, to himself and others (including herself) one would assume she'd have been more careful about keeping her weaponry out of his hands.

The incident is heartbreaking but more than that, it is infuriating. The only thing worse than an unspeakable tragedy is a preventable one. This shouldn't have happened. Why is it so easy in the United States to acquire guns? They should be banned. Aside from the military and law enforcement, NO ONE should be allowed to have them. There are far too many incidents where they end up in the wrong hands -- sometimes the hands of disturbed men who go on a killing spree and sometimes (which doesn't always make the news) in the hands of children who end up accidentally injuring or killing themselves or others. I don't know why on earth Nancy Lanza felt she needed an arsenal of weapons (including several handguns and assault rifles) in her home but if she had even an inkling that her son was mentally and emotionally unstable she should have kept them well hidden and under lock and key. If she hadn't become one of the victims I think she would have to be considered an accomplice to murder and charged with criminal negligence causing death because she gave her son the means to become a grim reaper and massacre a room filled with innocent people, including small children. Shooters are cowards. Stop giving them guns to hide behind! Obviously something was terribly wrong with Adam, whether he suffered a psychotic episode or whatever led him to this heinous act but if he didn't have access to guns, he could not have done what he did. If he snapped for whatever reason, he may have taken his own life by some other means, but at least the lives of the victims would have been spared. Armed with only a knife he probably wouldn't have made it past the school's new security measures and even if he did, an assailant with a knife is limited and much easier to subdue. No one stands a chance against a gun, so it gives the weak and desperate a feeling of power. Guns should be banned. They should be destroyed. No longer manufactured. No longer sold. No longer allowed. If they no longer existed then the majority of violent crime would be eliminated. I hope this devestating incident is enough to send the message. It has to stop. The U.S. can not allow innocent children to be slaughtered this way again.

It's impossible to know what the killer was thinking. Was he angry with his mother, with himself? Why take it out on strangers and innocent children? There was some speculation that maybe he'd had an argument with administrators at the school, but apparently that was unfounded. He had no previous altercation with the school, seemingly no cause for anger toward them. Did he suffer a psychotic episode? Was he having hallucinations or delusions? What was he trying to accomplish? Unless there was a note or unless his brother can shed some light on the matter, we may never know.

I don't know what the process is to acquire a gun in the U.S. I would hope that there is at least a process. A background check. A psychological exam. Of course even if the one purchasing the gun is a stable, upstanding citizen, what if they happen to have a psychotic son living with them? Shouldn't there be laws about keeping the guns locked safely away, not where they can be accessed? If it weren't so easy to buy a gun in the U.S., maybe there wouldn't be so many shootings. Of course people argue that most killers don't use registered weapons, there are so many unregistered ones, black market ones out there. My feeling is that it's too bad guns exist at all. Nancy Lanza had several guns. It appears she was a bit of an enthusiast (if only she'd had another, less deadly hobby!) If it weren't for her collection, 26 people would be celebrating the holidays with their families instead of lying in a morgue. Adam couldn't have procured a weapon on his own (apparently he tried to and was denied. You have to be 21 years old to register guns in Connecticut.) Without his mother's rifle whatever insane and homicidal impulses he had would have remained in his head and not acted out.

It's maddening. You can't help but wonder what if. What if we could go back in time and Adam could get the psychological help he needs whether through counselling or other treatment? What if Nancy didn't have all those guns or at the very least didn't have them out in the open where Adam could get his hands on them? What if on December 14th, Adam just had a breakdown while in the care of mental health specialists who could help him and the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary enjoyed an uneventful sunny day at school? If only we could go back and undo the mistakes that led to the deaths of so many beautiful, kind, happy, innocent people, including young children who had their whole lives ahead of them. Of course there is no going back. We can only move forward.

To the parents and families of the victims I want to extend my most heartfelt condolences. Also to the surviving students and teachers I empathize with the horror, the fear and grief you must be suffering after what you've encountered. We may never understand why this happened. All we can do is pray that it never happens again and hope that the powers that be will take a stand and put an end to this madness once and for all.

Newtown was a charming, safe, peaceful town with a low crime rate. There had only been one homicide there in the past decade. Now suddenly 28 members of the community had been killed in one day, in less than an hour. No one could have imagined something like this happening there. The town was so close knit that everyone was affected by the tragedy, even if not directly, the victims were people that they knew -- friends, acquaintances. Hundreds flocked to the vigil that was held at Newton's Saint Rose of Lima Church that night. And around the world, millions were praying for peace and comfort for the distraught families of the victims. A massacre like this would be shocking anywhere, even in a high crime urban area. The fact that it happened in a sweet little town like Newtown is a terrifying reminder that it can happen anywhere. Anywhere that guns are allowed. Guns are powerful instruments of evil. They can turn a quiet, polite boy into a monster. They can turn a peaceful town and a classroom full of angels into an unimaginable hell.

I don't know how the families can get through their loss, especially at this time of year. The only comfort they may find is that if they believe in an afterlife they can be sure that their loved ones are in a better place. A beautiful place where there is no violence, no suffering, no pain.

Heaven welcomes 26 more angels this Christmas. Their names are:

(children 6 and 7 years old)
Charlotte Bacon
Daniel Barden
Olivia Engel
Josephine Gay
Dylan Hockley
Madeleine Hsu
Catherine Hubbard
Chase Kowalski
Jesse Lewis
Ana Marquez-Greene
James Mattioli
Grace McDonnell
Emilie Parker
Jack Pinto
Noah Pozner
Caroline Previdi
Jessica Rekos
Avielle Richman
Benjamin Wheeler
Allison Wyatt

(school staff --)
Dawn Hochsprung
Anne Marie Murphy
Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau
Mary Sherlach
Victoria Soto
Rachel Davino

and Nancy Lanza, who was reputedly a kind and loving woman. Unfortunately for herself and the others she made two fatal errors -- collecting guns and allowing her son access to them.

May the victims rest in peace and may their families find peace and healing eventually. May they cherish the memories they shared with their loved ones and focus on their lives instead of their deaths. The people in our lives are a gift, however long they are with us, and we have to be grateful for them. We can also find comfort in the belief that we will be reunited with them again, in Heaven.

At least it seems that this incident has served as a final wake up call to the nation. President Obama has said that he's committed to action on gun control. Whatever that means. Probably not (as I would wish) completely doing away with guns altogether. At least maybe they will be a little more careful about how they sell them and who they sell them to. There are people that won't be happy about it. Frankly that shouldn't matter. According to their Bill of Rights, Americans have "the right to bear arms." I'm sure this was meant as a right to have a weapon to defend oneself against attack (as in a war). I'm sure the phrase was not meant to endorse guns being used against innocent victims, including children. It would seem to me that the right to own guns is anathema to other more important rights -- "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Anyone with a heart, anyone who is a parent, anyone with any compassion or decency has to see that incidents like this can never happen again. America has to take a stand to prevent it. Guns are anti-life. Plain and simple.

This incident may make people more fearful. They may see the world as a dangerous place. I don't think living in fear is the answer. The truth is that most people are basically good. Unfortunately some people are evil. Some are broken. Some lash out in ways that we may never understand. While we may not be able to fix or cure them all, we can at the very least try to reduce the damage that they can do. We can look for warning signs and try to get them help before they are out of control. Most importantly, we can take away their guns! For so long it seems that weapons have been glamourized in movies and in video games. It's one thing for a video game character to walk into a room and annihilate everyone in it. It's quite another thing when someone does that in real life. It's time that people tell it like it is: GUNS ARE FOR COWARDS! Imagine what a beautiful world it would be without them. None of these killing sprees could happen.

A story like this makes you realize just how precious and fragile life is. Our children are our hearts. They are our future. After hearing about the tragedy, I held Michelle tighter than ever. I am so grateful to have her in my life. She is everything to me. I love her so much that I want to protect her from ever being hurt. I start to understand why my Mom was so overprotective with us. Bad things can happen. As much as you try to live in order and harmony, you can't control the world. You can't eliminate all chaos and cruelty, all random acts, all violence, all tragedy. But you do your best. You can take precautions. You try to keep your children safe from danger. Life is precious and must be protected. Especially the lives of our children.

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