On the day of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I sat in my car and cried as I listened to the first reports come in over the radio. Online, almost immediately, it seemed, there were pictures of students, babies, really, clinging to each other as police officers in full SWAT gear led them through the parking lot. The news didn't get any better as hours and days passed and months later, as students across the country head back to school, we still don't have many answers to what caused that terrible tragedy and what we can do to prevent another one.
That became clear again today when reports began appearing in the early afternoon of a shooting at an elementary school in Georgia. Not again. Not again. Not again. Please, not again. There were images of dozens of police cars lining the streets around the school, which is in DeKalb County, Ga. There were images of students being herded to a yard outside of the building. There were images of parents gathering as close as they could to the building, holding each other and crying.
Then, after many tense moments, some relief. The suspect was in custody and each and every child at McNair Discovery Learning Academy is accounted for. Even as I write this, they're waiting for buses to arrive to take them from the back of the school, where they're waiting, to a nearby WalMart, where hundreds of parents have descended to meet their students and take them home. Just moments ago, several news outlets began reporting that the suspect in custody was a man armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.
This could have ended so much worse than it did. It will be interesting to learn, in the coming hours and days, what school officials and teachers did to ensure the safety of all, especially given that school just started last week, so they probably haven't conducted any drills yet. Hopefully, they all did exactly what they were supposed to do, and perhaps their system can serve as a model to others. But there will also be questions that need answering. Did this man own this rifle legally? How did he make it into the building in the first place? What were his intentions and did he express those intentions to anyone who may have failed to act to prevent this?
And, there will be the emotional and psychological fallout experienced by school employees and students. How will they move forward with the new year and how will they help these children feel that school is a safe place?
This is the last thing I want to write about the day before the first day of school for thousands of students across York County.
But, unfortunately, it should be at the front of our minds as we move forward into another year, where people manage to get into schools and fire assault rifles, where teenagers kill a passing jogger "just because we felt like it" and where we are no closer to solving this country's gun problem than we were back in December after Newtown. Or last July after the movie theater shooting in Colorado. Or after anyone of the 34 mass shootings that have occurred in this country in the last 10 years alone, killing a combined 284 people. This is, of course, not to mention the more than 21,000 people that have died because of guns since Newtown who weren't part of a mass shooting event. (Source: CDC)
I'll finish here with something a friend said following Newtown. I'm sure many parents in Georgia and all over the country will be doing this tonight as they think about what might have happened if things didn't go differently in one elementary school today..."Hug those sweet little children and hold them tight."