A reflection on school shootings
The below reflection is from reader westcoastjan.
In 1975, she was witness to a shooting at her high school. Whenever a similar incident occurs, it understandably brings back the horror of the moment for her.
After the Viginia Tech shooting in 2007, she shared her reflections about the ordeal in Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, in hopes that it would give aid in helping others process and understand what those directy impacted are experiencing.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, she has asked me to republish that account here.
Jan writes: "The school shooting in Connecticut this past week had the effect, as always, of causing me to relive it again. My heart has been heavy, and bleeds for the lives that have not only been lost, but also for those that have been destroyed. One never gets over these things as they are life changing; a person is never the same again after going through such an experience."
She shares this with the wish that no family experience such senseless loss again.
June 21, 2007
Almost 32 years ago, a lone gunman walked into my high school, St. Pius X in Ottawa, and opened fire upon his own Grade 13 religion class. It was not his only crime that day. We later learned that earlier, he had raped and killed a young woman.
It was the shootings at Virginia Tech that took me back to that fall afternoon. There is absolutely nothing in the realm of normal human development that can prepare a person for a school shooting; nothing prepared me for the sight of my brother's best friend, chest full of shotgun pellets, each with a purple halo of bruising, labouring to draw a breath. Or for the sight of another friend, whose face was similarly marked by pellets and rapidly swelling to a grotesque size. If you were to ask him, I am sure my brother would tell you that nothing on Earth could have prepared him for the task of jumping over the near-headless, bloody body of the gunman, to make his desperate dash for help.
In some ways, we were lucky. The gunman could have killed many more, had he chosen to. To our family's great fortune, my brother, sitting smack dab in the middle of it all, was like an invisible island in a hail of pellets. The injured were all within feet of him. Fate dealt him a good hand that day.
However, it did not deal a good hand to one particular student, or his family. Having suffered serious injuries, he fought valiantly for about a month, with the entire school pulling hard for him, and praying even harder.
Weeks after the shooting, as we were finally beginning to get back to a sense of normalcy, we were at mass in the school chapel when someone rushed in and whispered into the ear of the priest. Great anguish washed over his face as he announced that the young man had just died. There was a huge, audible gasp as the young victim's sister jumped to her feet, and ran out the chapel door, with a look of stunned disbelief on her face. A friend ran out behind, to console her, hug her, and let the grief pour forth.
St. Pius X at that time was well-known for its great school spirit, strong Catholic faith, and championship football teams. The shooting only served to solidify and strengthen that bond. In the aftermath, there was a lot of crying, and anger, too. We grew that much closer after the shooting.
The funeral of the only shooting victim to die was unforgettable. Sombre, yet stoic, the entire student body filled the pews. Some of the surviving shooting victims were pallbearers. The parents of the young man who did the shooting sat in the front row. I cannot imagine what must have been going through their minds as they sat there, brave beyond comprehension, knowing their son was responsible for it all. There was much compassion for them, in spite of their connection to the tragedy. I sat beside my brother, to be near him, to share in his pain, even if in silence.
Following the recent Virginia Tech shooting, just as in 1975, and as in every shooting since, a predictable course of events unfolded. There was finger-pointing and blaming. There will be probes and formal inquiries.Debates will rage as the various camps stake out their places, digging in their heels as they adamantly insist on the correctness of their point of
In taking his own life, the Virginia Tech gunman, like the one at our school, robbed us of any chance to find out from him why he chose to do this.
In spite of all the years, myriad inquiries, reports, commissions, and many more shootings, we still don't have a concrete answer for why these young men do what they do, shattering the lives of so many.
It seems to me that on the genetic level, something has gone horribly wrong in these people. Surely, these perpetrators of violence have a short circuit somewhere in the dark recesses of their minds. What else can explain how the vast majority of humans experience anger, rejection, and pain, yet have the necessary restraint that prevents them from taking it out on others in such a horrific manner?
Having mapped the human genome, researchers have begun to explore how defective or missing genes might contribute to disease and disabilities.
Would it be so much of a stretch to think that defective or missing genes cause a propensity to extreme violence?
While a scary thought, it makes sense to me. A genetic defect is the only way I can rationalize how a human being can inflict such horror on other human beings. It logically and reasonably decodes the actions of these gunmen, as well as all of the other repugnant violent offenders we have had to endure. In light of Virginia Tech, I wish that for once in our lives, people would let go of their pet causes in order to focus efforts on finding the true answer. We must, if we are to have any hope of preventing more of these senseless, devastating shootings.
We do have one valuable tool we use immediately. We can stop publishing the names and pictures of these deranged people. Doing so will take away the infamy they crave, and discourage the wannabes.
I called my brother the day after the Virginia Tech shooting. I just wanted to hear his voice. I never did reach him.
As usual, he was out and about, busy as ever in his day-to-day life as a business owner, husband, and father. I just wanted to tell him that I love him, and that I am so glad that he is still around.
We have never talked about the shooting. Perhaps one day we will.
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