I found out about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School when I was on a Friday night train up to York.
When I first logged into Twitter from my phone, I couldn’t quite understand what was going on - the mass outpouring of panic and grief was overwhelmingly disorientating. Slowly, it began to dawn on me that something horrible had happened, and that it had happened at a school.
I am a high-alert news junkie.The Guardian is my homepage on my phone and my laptop. My colleagues make fun of me for being a constant Breaking News bulletin. The fact of the matter is that my first ever memory of Breaking News was 9/11, and ever since then (I was 14) I’ve felt anxious if I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the world. As I’ve gotten older (not necessarily wiser), this has become more problematic as I now understand things like Credit Default Swaps and the background of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and am now way more prone to freak out over manipulation of the Libor rate.
So following the rolling news coverage of the shooting was a crushing heartbreak. Every detail that emerged was worse than the last. The live updates that were streaming through the news were muted by the shock of what was happening. Everywhere, people seemed to grasping for an explanation, something that would tell us why this awful thing was happening. False reports were emerging of the shooter’s identity, erroneous information that his mother worked at the school was being broadcast on international television. And then the kids’ ages started coming in, and they were babies really. They were all aged between six and seven years old.
In the five days since then, many details have become clearer. We have the children’s names now, for starters, and part of the shooter’s background. We have a vague idea of what happened in the school, of the sort of sacrifice that the staff made and the bravery that was shown across the board by teachers, first responders, and the kids themselves.
We also know that enough is enough. Barack Obama, usually the most stoic man in any room, has looked shattered on the two appearances he’s made since the tragedy. His words on the need for innocence, and the duty of parenthood ultimately reminded us that America, and maybe the larger global society, hasn’t done enough to protect our children. That every conversation we’ve had after a mass shooting, be it Columbine or Aurora, has done very little to pave the way to progress and prevention.
There will be many issues that will be brought up in the coming weeks and months, as politicians, journalists, and the public, try to rationalise and understand how such a tragedy could happen, and every single one of them will deserve to be explored and discussed. How does Obamacare plan to deal with anti-social personality disorders? Will the NRA finally agree to compromises?
Crucially, as a society, how will we cope the identities of those involved. When tragedies of this nature occur, time after time we remember the name of the killer far more clearly than we remember the names of the victims. Enough is enough. We shouldn’t be turning mass murderers into celebrities. It’s not conductive to a healing society to be digging out the skeletons in the cupboard of a slaughtered mother.
Those children deserve better than to have died, and we will have done nothing to protect them if we don’t address the larger framework of the rhetoric we use when dealing with a tragedy of this scale. We need to move forwards from this, and to do everything that we can to make sure it never happens again.
Image via Magnera's Flickr