I LEFT UVALDE for a couple of days, because I could. And because – if you follow the news like many people do – you cannot survive without taking a break.
It’s not fair to the people left behind in Ukraine, in Afghanistan, in New Mexico, in the Philippines and now in Texas, where catastrophe in one of its many horrifying varieties has affected actual lives, and then crossed deserts, mountains and oceans to reach into our homes and hearts.
We who are listeners, viewers and consumers of the news are not starving, grieving, bleeding or being lowered into graves with or without dignity. We can switch the channel, go for a walk and pat the cat.
Our time will come, but probably nothing like the way that tragedy has struck the mothers, uncles, classmates, brothers, friends and third cousins of the 19 murdered children in Uvalde and two of their teachers; for them, there’s no time off, no holiday, no break in the grief for the rest of their ruined lives.
It bothers me, this facility of being able to pop in and out of the misery experienced by people we only know second and third hand; we care intensely in the moment, but not forever, because their story will soon enough be replaced by another bit of urgent news or perhaps a crisis in our own lives.
Still, this doesn’t mean we are free of obligation to the people in Uvalde.
Some responsibilities in a democracy are more important than others, and this gun thing is one of them.
A PICTURE THAT OVERWHELMED
I didn’t want it to overwhelm me.
Because I don't think it’s okay for somebody in Rhode Island to weep for children in Texas; we have no right to usurp the tears of their parents, their friends, their relatives. We can empathize, but we shouldn’t steal their grief.
But I couldn’t help it.
You’ve probably seen the photo. Nine children are standing side-by-side, along with a teacher, on the school stage for an honors ceremony.
Most are smiling – maybe because the school year is nearly over, maybe because they’re genuinely proud of their achievements. They hold certificates in front of them, one of those moments when everything seems possible, the path ahead infinite and full of promise.
An hour later, the shooting will start, and six will be dead.
A BLASPHEMOUS PHOTO
Maybe you’ve seen this one as well.
It, too, features a child, although he seems younger, maybe a preschooler, certainly not old enough be murdered in the fourth grade. He cradles an assault rifle in his lap, the kind used by the teenage shooter in Texas. He seems intrigued, curious as if trying to figure out a just-opened birthday present.
The caption reads: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
That display was posted on social media, prior to the shooting, by Daniel Defense, the company that made one of the guns used by the Uvalde killer. Appropriately, Daniel Defense has been getting a lot of bad press. Here’s what the New York Times wrote:
“The company was an early adopter of a direct-to-consumer business model that aimed to make buying military gear as simple as ordering from Amazon, enticing customers with “adventure now, pay later” installment plans that make expensive weaponry more affordable.
“And the company’s founder and chief executive, Marty Daniel, has fashioned himself as a provocateur who ridicules gun control proposals and uses publicity stunts to drum up sales.
“Daniel Defense is at the forefront of an industry that has grown increasingly aggressive in recent years as it tries to expand beyond its aging, mostly white customer base and resists the calls for stronger regulation that seem to intensify after every mass shooting.”
It’s hard to believe that a Daniel Defense exists; that it makes what it makes; says what it says.
Yet, there’s a company seeking customers who might be “trained up” to do what they've been taught.
NEWS HEROES – Part 1
The coverage of the Uvalde shootings has been breathtaking.
I still get most of my news from newspapers, and the stories have been stunning in their depth, skill, and volume. I invite you to look at some of what the Washington Post offered its readers last Sunday.
Since I’ve spent most of my career at newspapers, I grieve their disappearance because the economics and demographics, which once made the businesses powerful and rich, have now turned the tables and snatched away their bounty.
Some major papers still have robust staffs of reporters, photographers and editors that were the hallmark of newspapers at their peak. But so far, the nation has found no way to replace the many that have shriveled or disappeared, yet another reason why democracy is at risk.
Here are three Post stories:
* SHE’D TAKEN ONE CHILD HOME. THE OTHER WAS STILL AT SCHOOL WHEN A GUNMAN OPENED FIRE
The reporter, Peter Jamison, describes the terror experienced by an Uvalde mother, who had allowed one of her daughters to leave the school early, but insisted that her sister remain. Hearing about the shooting, the mother frantically drives her pickup truck back to the school, hazard lights flashing.
* WHAT SCHOOL SHOOTINGS DO TO THE KIDS WHO SURVIVE THEM, FROM SANDY HOOK TO UVALDE
The story is written by John Woodrow Cox, with contributions from Joanna Slater, Razzan Nakhlawi, Meryl Kornfield and Ian Shapira
This is a sweeping chronicle that tells of the enduring trauma of seven survivors of school shootings at Columbine High School, Colorado, in 1999; Sandy Hook Elementary, Connecticut, 2012; Townville Elementary, South Carolina, 2016; and Robb Elementary, Uvalde, Texas, 2022
* THE UVALDE SHOOTING ‘STIRRED SOMETHING’ IN HIM. SO HE GAVE UP HIS GUN
By Holly Bailey and Joshua Lott, with contributions from Tim Craig and Peter Jamison.
A retired high school history teacher, a gun owner and devoted member of the NRA, visits the Uvalde memorial after the shooting, and decides to fetch his own AR-15, a gun similar to one the shooter used, so he can bring it to the police and be rid of it.
NEWS HEROES – Part 2
As great as newspapers are when they are at there best, they only function if people tell them their stories.
These people are rare and brave. Talking to a reporter is no casual matter. Even before Donald Trump declared war on the news media, ginning up hatred with phrases like “enemy of the people” and “fake news,” papers had a love-hate relationship with their public.
Especially during a tragedy like the one in Uvalde, there’s a standing taboo against talking to reporters, because people are in shock; they need to grieve in private. But suddenly there are strangers demanding that they spill their guts, share their most most intimate, personal, precious, crushing memories and feelings.
“Avoid the media” is the message from relatives, friends, the police, teachers. It’s a wonder it’s not posted on highway billboards and banners pulled across the sky by airplanes.
But if real people don’t tell their stories, the rest of us cannot know what has happened. Those who do take that daring step into into the abyss cannot imagine the consequences – the dangers of being in the spotlight, whether reporters will get their stories straight, what their friends, their families will make of the stories and the people who told them.
As a democracy, we cannot function unless people, usually ordinary people like those Uvalde, are willing to tell the rest of us what they have experienced, what they think, what their lives have become, what really happened.
They are, in the full sense of the word, heroes.
So, here are some of the names that made the news stories possible:
* SHE’D TAKEN ONE CHILD HOME…
Marisela Roque is the mother who allowed her daughter, Kat, 10, to leave school early, but insisted another daughter, Ariely, 9, remain. Roque drives back to the school.
From the story:
“Roque stood with many parents on one side of the school, near Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home. Her father waited with others at the back of the campus, near his house. Time passed, though she couldn’t say how much. The crowd grew angrier, and so did she.
“Then she felt her phone buzzing again. It was her sister, who not long ago had delivered to her the news of the shooting.
“Now she had more news.
“Ariely was alive.”
* WHAT SCHOOL SHOOTINGS DO TO THE KIDS…
Columbine High School
Samantha Haviland, now 40 and a former school counselor in Denver, survived the Columbine shootings. She remembers a practice drill 10 years after Columbine.
From the story:
“The nightmares — always of being chased — lingered for years, but she didn’t think she deserved help, not when classmates had died, been maimed or had witnessed the carnage firsthand. She would be okay.
“But now there she was, a decade later, sitting in the darkness, practicing once again to escape what so many of her friends had not. Then she heard footsteps and saw the shadow of an administrator checking the locks. Her chest began to throb, and suddenly, Haviland knew she wasn’t okay.
Sandy Hook Elementary
Camille Paradis, Maggie LaBanca and Rayna Toth were third graders at Sandy Hook, and now are about to graduate from Newtown High School.
From the story:
“At first, Rayna couldn’t stand to be by herself. She couldn’t shower with the door closed or walk down the stairs in her own house alone. She couldn’t ever be left there without someone, even if her mom was only leaving for a five-minute errand.
“Rayna still can’t go inside anywhere without thinking through how she would get out — at restaurants, she notes the exits before she decides what to order; at school, she plots how she would escape if another gunman showed up.”
“Zoey Hall, now 9, was 4 and in kindergarten when her teacher hid her and classmates in bathroom when shooting started. Her brother Jacob, 6, died in the shooting. She remembers details. So does Ava Olson, Jacob’s friend.
From the story:
“On Tuesday evening, she (Ava) was sitting on her living room couch, watching funny cat videos on TikTok. Then a different kind of video popped up. It showed that more than a dozen children had been shot dead at an elementary school in Texas.”
“She started screaming, and her mother rushed into the room.”
“‘Why?’ Ava cried. “‘Why?’”
Noah Orona, 10, was shot in the shoulder blade while in his fourth grade classroom.
“I lost my glasses,” the boy later told his father, Oscar Orona. “I’m sorry.”
* THE UVALDE SHOOTING ‘STIRRED SOMETHING’ …
Richard Small, 68, is the retired high school teacher, an NRA member and gun owner, who brought his AR-15 to the police.
From the story:
“He didn’t want to sell the gun, fearful of where it might end up. Turning it over to the police seemed to be the best option, though he acknowledged that it might put him in conflict with friends, other NRA members and gun-rights supporters who might not understand why he was doing what he was doing.
“‘But I can’t have this on my conscience,’ he said. “We can’t keep with the status quo.’”
BRIAN C. JONES