Almost three thousand miles separates us from recent events at Virginia Tech, yet the irony is as palpable as the chill in the air.
Within minutes of a fatal shooting on this cursed campus last Thursday, officials sounded a school alarm and inundated students’ cell phones with texted news and updates.
The nature of the event itself was painfully reminiscent: A lone subject approaches a police officer, shoots him and then runs away. For those of us living in the Puget Sound area, it is a reminder of the six police officers slain in a similar unprovoked fashion between October, 2009 and January, 2010.
The comparison between the recent incident in Virginia Tech and our local tragedies now two years distant is an ice cold serving of deja vu. It is not, however, ironic.
The grating voice of irony points out instead that the bloody lessons learned in 2007 turned out to be useless last Thursday. In 2007 a disturbed and marginalized psycho was given a two hour window to pursue a path of bloody carnage through a Virginia Tech campus filled with students wholly unaware of the danger. In the years following this rampage, school and police officials were forced to make several changes to their “active shooter” response, including the addition of campus alarms and an emergency text messaging system.
Public safety professionals are well practiced at learning from mistakes, mostly because critical incidents occur so frequently in a free, populated and chaotic nation such as ours. These provide ample example for what works, both technologically and tactically, as well as what doesn’t work. As events at Virginia Tech in 2007 clearly demonstrated, we make our share of mistakes.
No amount of correction can change the fact that these errors cost lives. Regardless of the usefulness of correcting our errors, the loss of life leaves many of us, police and civilian alike, with a bitter sense of regret. From that poisoned well springs the cruel irony of the two Virginia Tech shootings. If the incidents had happened in reverse order, if Officer Crouse’s killing had instead occurred in 2007, then would the inevitable changes in campus security have prevented a massacre?
This line of thinking is, like the cruel twist of irony’s blade, both pointless and painful.
It remains a maddening fact that there are still incidents for which we can do little to prepare. Our solutions sometimes appear as the equivalent of a barn door shutting on an already departed horse.
As first responders we pride ourselves in being well prepared and in learning from our mistakes. But the truth is that arbitrary and violent acts are a part of human nature, and no amount preparation can change that fact.