The 20 innocent children would be 11 or 12 years old now, and in the sixth grade. Maybe they’d be learning in school about the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, reading poetry or the novel, Treasure Island. But they never made it out of the first grade.
It’s been five years since the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The bloodshed attributed to rampage shootings continues at a frenetic pace; to my count there have been more than 30 mass shootings since the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown. While there is progress being made in some related fields, as in school safety and neurological medical research, for example, the number of incidents and innocent lives lost is so painful, whatever progress made is lost in a tsunami of profound sadness and regression.
Rampage murders bear a striking resemblance to another American crisis, that of suicide. In most cases that’s exactly what a rampage is. The murderers know they’ll be killed and often kill themselves before police can. That’s exactly what the Newtown killer did. Suicide is so obviously preventable, but is now the tenth most common cause of death in the U.S. and, relevant to rampages, the second highest cause of death among young people. The most notable and striking difference between the rampage and most suicides is the rampager also kills many innocent people, and innocent strangers at that.
The motives of rampage killers like the Newtown murderer or the more recent Las Vegas killer are unknown. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from the rare rampager who somehow lives, like the killer in Aurora, Colorado (the 2012 “Dark Knight” theater massacre) or Tucson, Arizona (the 2011 “Congress on Your Corner” massacre).
There is persuasive evidence that the rampage killers study the rampagers who precede them, even obsess about them, just as the Newtown killer did. They try to out-do their predecessors and achieve notoriety in death, unachievable in life. To that extent, major progress would be made if the major news media stopped using the killers’ names (as I did here), stopped publishing the killers’ pictures, ignored their rants, and stopped declaring their murders as “the deadliest.” Why award bloodthirsty murderers titles and achievements, like trophies on a mantel? The more the killers are made famous you can be certain their records will be broken.
I went to a very moving ceremony a few years ago to honor the memory of Emilie Parker, one of the little angels murdered in Newtown. The ceremony was the opening of a playground in New London, Connecticut. It’s called “Emilie’s Shady Spot,” a lovely, playful, cheerful, pink playground, with pictures of butterflies. The playground was one of 26 playgrounds built by a group of New Jersey firefighters and paid for by generous donations. Playing on the sparkling new equipment, the children were running, climbing, playing, with bright smiles on their faces. I heard laughter. I fought back tears. More than 200 other people in attendance also fought back tears that morning. Sometimes it seems that’s all a person can do. Or is it? How many more playgrounds have to be built?