At 14 years old, my worries and cares were minimal, mostly thinking about a girl I liked in eighth grade or how long my batteries were good for in my handheld CD player, the headphones seemingly never leaving my ears (Sugar Ray’s “14:59” and Lit’s “A Place In The Sun” were the melodic obsessions at the time).
But, something out of the corner of my eye in the lobby provoked me to take them off my head. It was the nearby television. On the screen were kids my age running away from a school that resembled mine back in Upstate New York. The news ticker on the bottom of the screen said something about a shooting in a high school, some place I’d never heard of called Columbine, Colorado.
Twelve students and one teacher were shot down in cold blood (and 21 wounded) by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold before they took their own lives on that fateful morning. I remember that day vividly. And I also distinctly remember the days and weeks following Columbine, where the entire world tried to make sense of what had happened, how the term “mass shooting” now entered our daily psyche, with one question posed that still lingers above our society today — why?
As we approached the new millennium, fingers were pointed at the shooters parents (or lack thereof), rock-n-roll (more specifically Marilyn Manson), video games, and so on, with no real answers beyond the mere fact these were jaded, tortured souls that wanted to inflict pain in the hearts and minds of their peers and community at-large.
Heck, for a short period, Eric Harris lived in my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, before moving to Colorado. And the kids, teachers and parents in my school district had that same conversation that probably occurred in every academic institution across the country. Could a mass shooting happen here? What would we do if it happened here? Wasn’t that kid in sixth period gym class saying something last week about killing some people?
With time, and like clockwork, nothing did happen — at our school, in our Congress — and we went along with our lives, slowly forgetting the horror and bloodshed we witnessed on live national television, the images of bloodied students running away from their once-safe school, kids being pulled out of broken windows in a desperate attempt to stay alive.
But, I never forgot those images of Columbine, or where I was when I first saw the carnage. I also never forgot where I was when the mass shootings happened at Virginia Tech (in my living room at college in Connecticut), the Aurora movie theater (sleeping in my truck at a lonely rest area in Virginia en route to my job interview at The Smoky Mountain News) and Sandy Hook Elementary School (sipping a beer at the former Tipping Point in Waynesville).
What’s funny is — not “haha,” but “WTF” — is that I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when the recent shootings happened at the Umpqua Community College (9 dead), San Bernardino (14 dead), Orlando nightclub (49 dead), Las Vegas strip (58 dead) and Sutherland Springs Church (26 dead). The Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting (17 dead) happened just last week and I can’t even remember where I was when that happened.
Is it that I simply don’t care anymore? No, that’s not it. Is it that every time something tragic like a mass shooting happens, something just as crazy and tragic happens the following day to overshadow the previous day’s news in our 24/7 mainstream media cycle? Well, that’s partly it, at least in my perspective as a journalist and millennial. There’s definitely a lot of political qualms/backdoor deals, societal helplessness, overmedicated folks and “What can one person really do?” that ironically plays into it.
What’s weird is reading Wikipedia’s take on mass shootings in the United States. Oddly on point, I guess you could say, where the suggested psychological “causes” of mass shootings are all listed. But, one “cause” really stuck out for me, “the widespread chronic gap between people’s expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, and individualistic culture.” What a “cause,” eh? Love, it all comes down to giving and receiving love, making an honest connection with another human being, taking the time to find someone’s weakness and helping them heal before it’s too late.
Mass shootings aren’t something new, nor is public outcry to do something about it. The usual “cause and effect” of a mass shooting and how society deals with it is a broken record at this point. Mass shootings will always linger in society as long as the human condition exists. Before 2007, the “Top Three” mass shootings in America were in 1991 (23 dead), 1984 (21 dead) and 1966 (17 dead). But, as of today, the “Top 5” mass shootings all occurred in the last decade or so.
For a large majority of Americans, the frustration isn’t to take the guns away, but to just to do something — one single thing — at the hands of our elected officials that maybe could curb these events from happening in such consistency, which is something to works towards as a people looking for real, tangible solutions, regardless of political party or personal feelings towards the Second Amendment.
I hold out hope, I truly do.
1 Rock/funk act Porch 40 will hit the stage at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at Mad Batter Food & Film in Sylva.
2 The “Haywood Ramblings” speaker series will return with the “History of Cataloochee Valley” at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at the Town Hall Board Room in Waynesville.
3 Honky-tonk/rock act Lorin Walker Madsen & The Hustlers will perform at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville, and 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill in Waynesville.
4 Western Carolina University will host Sarah Elizabeth Burkey & Susan Pepper (old-time/bluegrass) at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at the Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowhee.
5 Swain County Genealogical and Historical Society will present “The Life and Times of D. K. Collins” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1, at the Swain County Regional Business Education & Training Center in Bryson City.