I’ve never seen a gun up close. I’ve never seen one fired. I don’t personally know anyone with a mental illness, but I’ve had classes with some. In high school, two girls got in a fight and one was pushed against a locker—that’s the most violence I’ve seen in school. My classmates and I went through the motions of fire drills and nuclear bomb drills like they were games—a chance to drop the textbooks and chat with friends. I don’t have any close friends who have died and I’ve never seen someone killed right in front of me, the light fading from their eyes. In these respects, I’m as innocent as the children at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. As innocent as they were.
I was working all day on Friday. The words “twenty kids shot at an elementary school” reached my ears at some point, but a Friday at a restaurant is a busy day. I didn’t have time to slow down and check my phone. On Saturday, my family drove to Ohio in the morning to visit family. We went to church, where, during the homily, the priest asked and answered the question, “what do we do?” with respect to the shooting. “We pray,” he said. I didn’t get any full information until Saturday night. And when the names of twenty first-graders and six adults were shown on the television screen, my family wept.
No child goes to first grade with any thought that this tragedy could happen. No parent sends their child to school, thinking a shooter might come into the building. We believe schools are a safe environment, a haven with friends and mentors, full of knowledge and promise. I loved school as a child. I loved my teachers and textbooks and the feel of a newly sharpened pencil on a clean sheet of paper. I loved reading, writing, and learning. What will these children love now?
The biggest shock to the nation is that these victims were children and teachers. Twenty young lives, who haven’t even seen the world or know what amazing things are yet to come, were sitting at their desks eagerly soaking up knowledge. Six adults, trying to mold young minds and teach children to be the best they can be, put themselves in front of their kids, trying to protect them. The questions going through everyone’s minds: Who does this? Who shoots innocent children in school?
Like the shooting in the Colorado movie theater, this tragedy brings up so many questions and issues. People take sides, they fight for their beliefs, they write articles, letters, and blog posts. We desperately search for the reason why this happened, in our effort to find a better way to stop it. Is gun control the issue, or is it school safety? One mother of a mentally ill teenager writes that we must examine mental health and the care that is available for people who have special needs. But perfectly sane people can still buy a gun and shoot someone. If it’s a combination of all of these things, can we ever truly solve this problem?
Once again, the nation grieves for a community that has been torn apart by violence. We light candles, hold vigils and send teddy bears. We can’t unwind the time that has passed, or bring the children we love back, but we can send our thoughts and our hearts to those who are grieving. And we can pray. We can pray for the families of the victims and the shooter, and we can pray for action.
I hope there are more children like me, who stay innocent for as long as possible. I hope there are children who don’t know violence, who have never seen a gun, who feel that their school is a safe haven. I hope children take their emergency drills seriously, but never have to put them into action. I hope children who need special help, get it, and I hope this never, ever happens again.
I pray for innocence.