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Newtown, Your Town, My Town

The names are different, but the story is always the same. Why?

My son was a newly minted 6-year-old at Reston's Terraset Elementary School when the DC snipers terrorized the area in October of 2002.

Since no one knew where the snipers would strike next, everyone was afraid. The first-graders knew about the bad guys, so they zig-zagged in a conga line to get from the car to the door of the school. Keep moving, avoid the bad guys, it's like a video game. Wheeee.

The annual fall trip to Cox Farms was canceled. Ten people died. In the end, Reston's schoolkids came out OK.

Doesn't that just seem like a simpler time?

Like everyone, I have been thinking the last few days about Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed by a gunman with a semi-automatic weapon last Friday morning.

Newtown seems a lot like Reston - a solid, middle-to-upper income place with good schools and community activities and, until last Friday, not a lot of violence.

In Reston, the talk of the town is subjects like the Barnes & Noble closing; whether the Reston Association assessments for maintaining the pools and paths are too high; and the kerfuffle over changing up FCPS middle school advanced academic programs.

Over on Newtown Patch, stories pre-massacre included Hurricane Sandy delaying Halloween;  the Newtown High Marching Band playing at the Meadowlands; and parents concerned about the potential closing of one of the four elementary schools in town.

I point this out because Newtown and Reston are like thousands of other places in the United States. They are a lot like Chardon, Ohio, where three were killed at a shooting at the high school last winter, and like Aurora, Colo., where 12 were killed and 58 injured in a mass shooting at a movie theater over the summer.

Is anyone even surprised when this happens anymore?

Sadly, it is becoming like a sick Mad-Lib when one these shootings occurs, which is already way too often.

(Killer's Name) was a loner, who seemed a little "off" but harmless. He got a hold of (name a weapon) by purchasing it (name of gun show, sporting goods store or Internet catalogue here). He went to (public, generally happy place) and opened fire, (killing this many).

"We should have seen the signs," (fill in name of neighbor/ teacher/ acquaintance). "It's just so  (sad/tragic/awful/senseless/gruesome)."

President Barack Obama spoke Sunday at an interfaith service at Newtown High School.

"We can't accept events like this as routine," he said. "Are we really prepared to say that we are powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

In my opinion, the country has become a toxic stew of easy-to-get weapons, kids that slip through the mental health cracks and entertainment that makes certain people numb to violence.

I'm not a Constitutional scholar. However, I am pretty sure the Founding Fathers, when crafting the Second Amendment, were envisioning an armed militia keeping the Brits from invading, not a mentally ill 20-year-old shooting his way into a school with a .223-caliber Bushmaster assault weapon and a D-Day level of ammo on him.

I'm not a psychologist. I don't know what exactly was wrong with accused shooter Adam Lanza, who also killed himself at the school, police said - but I am pretty sure it was a lot. Maybe his mother (also dead, shot in her bedroom by her son with her own gun) tried and tried to help him. Maybe she didn't, thinking he was merely weird but not violent and the guns she kept in the house were locked away. Maybe he was on meds to quiet voices in his head. 

I'm not a sociologist. I don't know if watching movies like 300 and Kill Bill or playing hours and hours of Call of Duty Black Ops - where the sole purpose seems to be to hunt people down and assassinate them - is part of the discussion here. But that kind of violence seems to be a big part of our entertainment culture, which is fine if you are a well-adjusted person who understands fantasy from reality. If you are mentally ill, it seems like it could be an inspiration.

I'm just a parent who expects when she sends a child to school in the morning, they will safely return home at night. That seems like it is not a given anymore.

This morning, there was a Fairfax County Police officer parked in front of Terraset, and every other county public school, as the county beefed up police presence in the wake of Newtown.

They were there a decade ago, when 6 year olds in Pokemon shirts conga-lined into school, where teachers then, as now, here and in Newtown, would lay their own lives on the line to protect them.

It is everything else that has changed.

M.D. December 17, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Thank you for writing this. Every word you wrote resonates with me. And ever since I sent my oldest off to preschool 8 years ago, I've had a fear this would happen. It was never a matter of "if" but "when" and please don't let it be my children's school. I would occationally imagine rushing to my school in an emergency, watching all of the children run out into their parents arms, and being the parent left who never sees their children again. That nighmare became a reality for too many parents on Friday, and my heart is utterly broken for them. This unbelievable tragedy has got to be a turning point for our country so that those 26 precious lives do not become a senseless memory.
evy davis December 17, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Karen, Thank you for saying what parents all over the country are thinking. Even in your hometown of Beachwood, Ohio were there police officers at each school this morning and emails sent to parents, hoping to comfort us that this cannot happen here. But it can. Whether we are at a shopping mall, a movie theater or G-d forbid, at our Excellent rated public schools. Last year after that horrible incident at Chardon High School (which hit so close to home), I was sitting in the Beachwood High School cafeteria, thinking "what would I do if a kid walked in here with a gun and started shooting?" I never thought I would have to think about that in Beachwood, Ohio. Even Joe Scarborough of Fox News has had a change of heart regarding gun laws. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036789/ns/msnbc-morning_joe/#50222624. It has to change. Military style, assault rifles with large clips of bullets MUST STOP being sold to civilians. It has to stop. All you gun enthusiasts will say that the shooter would have found another way to carry out his plan. That gun control laws and restrictions will not change these incidents. I disagree. You will say that teachers, and people going to movies, etc should carry guns for protection. It makes my head spin to think how warped that thinking is. Now, America, now. For the sake of our children, we must do what is right. I am not against our 2nd Amendment rights, but surely this is not what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.
Carolyn Lawson December 17, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Karen - thoughtful and poignant - thank you for sharing
Eve Thompson December 17, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Thank you Karen- well said.
M.D. December 18, 2012 at 05:00 AM
I absolutely agree with you. I saw the video by Joe Scarborough earlier today. It was very powerful. And tonight I decided to disengage any Facebook discussions with pro-gun extremists. It's terribly upsetting. I prefer to focus on hope that we'll move in a positive direction.

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