Last year was different, though.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 26 people died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Twenty of those people were children, the oldest being just 7 years old.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first mass shooting in America. I remember the 1998 shooting at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I remember Columbine. I remember Virginia Tech.
All of these senseless acts of carnage bothered me, however, unbeknownst to me, none of them seemed to truly affect me at the time. Newtown is different. The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012 during the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” bothered me. I was in a theater at the exact same time of the Aurora shooting, watching the exact same movie as the victims and survivors of that atrocity.
I woke up the next day to hear, read and see the terrible news of the events that occurred the night before, and it bothered me immensely. However, even then, it didn’t truly affect me. Newtown is different.
NBC News published a heartbreaking anthology of eulogies on Dec. 16, 2012, dedicated to the victims lost as a result of the shooting in Newtown.
As I read through the poignant words of love, pride and sorrow emanating from the parents, grandparents, neighbors, co-workers and friends of the victims, something clicked within me that never clicked within me following the previous atrocities.
I know these victims. I may not know the people, but I know the personalities, the smiles, the laughs, the innocence and the ambitious dreams that permeated throughout the eulogies.
In 2010, I began working at an after-school day care in Pensacola. I’ve written about some of the more monotonous and humorous moments of my childcare career in The Voyager before. Knowing from experience, child care is not an easy occupation. It is a stressful, consuming and occasionally frustrating job.
However, for every throaty temper tantrum or random crying episode, there is a kid helping another student with his or her math homework, or a fourth-grader teaching a kindergartner how to drift in “Mario Kart.” Every day, there was a challenge.
However, with every challenge and every trying day, there was a much more memorable reward. When I left the day care to begin graduate school, I would periodically visit the day care from time to time to check in with all the children who were still there. Their personalities were as infectious as ever. Their smiles were as bright as I could remember. They were loud, energetic and rambunctious. They were kids, and while I was reading the eulogies of the Newtown victims, they were the first and only things I could think about in that moment.
One of my good, longtime friends recently began teaching first grade here in Pensacola. Victoria Soto, the teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who bravely attempted to shield her students from gunfire, taught first grade. My friends remain alive and well. Unfortunately, there are parents in Newtown who had to celebrate the holidays without their children.
There are families in Newtown who had to celebrate the holidays without people they cherished and adored unconditionally. Nearly one month after the terrible events that took place in Newtown, and the recollection of the countless lives lost in horrific mass shootings over the last 14 years, my heart breaks even more when I realize Newtown isn’t different, after all.
People lost their sons in Aurora.
People lost their daughters in Columbine.
People lost their brothers at Virginia Tech.
People lost their sisters in Jonesboro.
We have all lost way too much in these ridiculous shootings.
We’ve lost lives.
We haven’t lost our right to bear arms, and I do not believe we need to.
However, when a human being with severe mental issues gets his hands on semi-automatic rifles and extended clips, something is going terribly wrong. Mental health is seen more and more as a positive and helpful resource, as opposed to a taboo, following the Newtown shooting.
While it is great that more people are proponents of mental health awareness, it is a shame that it takes a horrific act of mass murder to finally get people on board. Unfortunately, our society failed to properly indicate and address the causes of horrendous gun violence such as what occurred in Newtown.
We failed to do it after Columbine.
We failed to do it after Virginia Tech.
We failed to do it after Aurora.
Hopefully, Newtown will be different.