After substantial delays, the final report on the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown was released this week. It’s harrowing reading, perhaps most of all because it offers so few answers for why this tragedy happened.
There’s not a lot in the report that’s new or particularly surprising. We get a timeline. We learn that the shooter had materials related to previous mass shootings, and that he rarely talked to anyone else. We learn about the confusion and terror of those first minutes, and the response of police. We learn how some of the brave staff acted to save students, or died trying.
But it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t let us sleep more soundly. It is, in a word, frightening.
The report is frightening precisely because there isn’t a clear motive. There’s nothing to tease out of the information here to give us any idea why this happened, or how we can stop it from happening again. There’s no patterns to match; nothing to single out. The shooter’s mental health, social isolation, and playing of violent video games, all of which have been cited as possible reasons, were determined not to have been significant. The details of his life are not extraordinary, there’s nothing in there to clearly suggest he would do what he did.
The things I keep coming back to are the guns he had and his apparent fascination with media reports of shootings. He had easy access to weapons; his mother even wanted to buy him another gun for Christmas. They found the check she’d given him for it in his room. The other thing I know is that people know the shooter’s name now. He has a sick kind of fame.
But we’re not going to ban all or even most guns. And we’re not going to stop making these individuals famous. If I’ve learned nothing else during the past year, it’s that there’s nothing in the world that can make our leaders brave enough to really try to change things, and that tragedy fades away too quickly from our minds.
I want to believe that the gun laws Connecticut passed will make it somewhat more difficult for people like the Newtown shooter to amass an arsenal, but anyone who really wants those weapons just has to go to a state where they’re legal and drive them home. Who will stop them? The gun laws here are a start, but that’s all.
One detail I missed, somehow, was that Lauren Rousseau, who died with 16 others in Classroom 8 with behavioral therapist Rachel D’Avino, was a substitute teacher. I learned that Principal Dawn Hochsprung and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach ran toward the danger. I learned that Anne Marie Murphy, a behavioral therapist in Victoria Soto’s class, died covering one of the children.
Do you know their names? Do you know the shooter’s?
So, no. There’s nothing comforting in the report. There’s no good way for us to find safety there. How can we possibly think we’re safe? Over 10,000 Americans have been killed by guns since the Newtown shootings; if we count suicides the number is much, much higher. More than 300 of those shootings are classified as mass shootings, according to a crowd-sourced online record.
There’s nothing in the report that will help make us safe. So, since changing our culture on guns and media isn’t something we’re capable or willing to do, we’re going to have to get used to not being safe.
When I was a substitute teacher, and, later, when I was a classroom teacher, I ran through scenarios in my mind. We all did. What would happen if someone came in through that door; what to do to help save the children if necessary. We got training in staying against the walls, locking the doors, turning off the lights and pretending no one was in the room.
And we lived with the reality that none of it would really help. We could train, we could be ready, we could put armed guards at the door, we could lock ourselves in, and we could pray, but none of those things can stop bullets.
So, because American society can’t and won’t change, now it’s teachers and students who must live with the constant possibility that on some cold winter day someone with a gun and motives we can’t even guess at will walk in with death in his eyes, and after it’s all over and done, the only name anyone will remember is his.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.