I am reminded of an event that very well may be one of the scariest moments in my life that took place some 20 years ago. A child, my age, some 12, 13 years old, comes to school with loaded hunting rifles and held up a classroom. Although, a shot was fired in the classroom, into the ceiling, no one was injured, and it ended almost as quickly as it began. I remember being ushered into the gymnasium, a lot of scared students holding each other, and tears, as well all began to make sense of what just happened that morning. And the shock settled in for many of friends, including myself, as we found out not only did this happen in the classroom just above mine, but to one of our teachers.
Stories started flying amongst the students, faculty and staff about the child being unstable. He was rumored to be rambling on about having to finish his homework before he could watch tv, or some other such nonsense. But no one ever really understood what had happened. Why did he bring these loaded rifles to school? How did he even manage to bring them without anyone noticing? Was there some kind of sign that should have signaled us that there was something wrong? How could any of us have missed it? He was someone we knew, and generally was well liked amongst his friends. To this day, his motivations still baffle me.
The years go on, without another incident happening within our little community.
Then Columbine occurs. Two students went on a killing spree within their high school, killing 13 and injuring more. Yet, unlike what had happened in my hometown in the early 1990s, there were clear and definite signs that these young men were in trouble. Some would rationalize that the behavior of the two gunmen were influenced by violent video games, movies and other media. Others would argue that there was years of a social climate of bullying, isolation and helplessness that led to the attack. Even a post-mortem diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and depressive disorders were introduced to “help” explain what had happened, even though all it did was raise more questions and blamed others for the incident.
In a press release concerning the Columbine Incident, musical artist Marilyn Manson states, “The [news] media has unfairly scapegoated the music industry and so-called Goth kids and has speculated, with no basis in truth, that artists like myself are in some way to blame. This tragedy was a product of ignorance, hatred and an access to guns. I hope the [news] media’s irresponsible finger-pointing doesn’t create more discrimination against kids who look different.” In Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine,” he was asked if he would talk to the students at the high school where the tragedy took place. He responded, “I wouldn’t say a single word. I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did.”
On Wednesday, January 4, 2012, a 15 year old was shot and killed by police in my hometown, after bringing a weapon to school. In a comments I had posted to the local newspaper request for community thoughts, I stated that no one was asking why he had brought the weapon to school. What signs were there that would give him a reason to bring it? Was he being bullied? Was he trying to hurt someone? Like the incident twenty years ago, no one has been able to answer the question, although, police are still investigating the incident. Blame is being passed around like mints at a dinner party. Mostly, at the police officers who responded. How could the police shoot a 15 year old?
The reality is, even though it was just a CO2 pellet gun, the weapon he brought to school did in deed look like a Glock 9 mm automatic handgun. He held the weapon, reportedly, pointing it at the police, and, prior to their arrival, at least one other student. Since the event at Columbine, Police departments around the country have been trained to neutralize the suspect[s], by killing or wounding the suspect[s], to minimize the number of victims being killed or wounded. This tactic has proven very successful since the Columbine Incident, most notably the Virginia Tech Massacre. And by using this tactic, responding officers were able to protect the students, faculty and staff at this school.
My first and really most important question is, was there anyone there to listen to him? Most people, children, teenagers and adults, alike, do not just act without some form of motivation. Even if this was some form of gang related event, there is still a motivation behind this act. Why would he bring a weapon to school? Did he feel he needed to protect himself? Was he trying to hurt someone? Was he just trying to look cool and tough? Was their any indication in his behavior that might have signaled something was wrong? There are just too many unanswered questions.
The true root of this problem lies in the fact that, for whatever reason, we are not listening to these children. We either ignore the fact there is something wrong, or we are simply not listening. Like so many similar events that have occurred in the past, Columbine, Virginia Tech, University of Central Arkansas, there were signs that could have given us clues as to how to keep these events from happening. Many people have offered solutions to remedy these problems, from bringing back prayer into school and holding weekly assemblies over bullying and other such topics. But the reality is that none of these will truly work unless we take the time and interest in these young lives. If these children are stressed over something, school work, bullies, family life, whatever it may be, there are things we can do to help them overcome these stresses; help them come up with solutions, teach them how to deal with events to keep them from hurting themselves or others. They need to feel like someone is listening and truly want to help them overcome.
The true tragedy, in any event, is that a child so young needlessly lost his life. My heart goes out to the child and his family, those students and faculty at the school, and the police who responded. Maybe one day we will have the answers we so desperately need and are able to prevent a tragedy such as this from happening again.