This time it happened close to home. One victim dead and three wounded on a college campus. A lone gunman taken into custody.
Once again it was our turn to stare in shock at the breaking news on the television – a mass shooting at Seattle Pacific University, the quiet, tree-lined campus that hugs Queen Anne Hill (TNT 6/7).
Our reaction to such senseless violence should not depend on proximity, but of course it does.
In an achingly familiar cycle, we first experience panicked shock as we recall the faces and names of students we know (four, in my case). This is followed by a flood of anxiety as we await the texts to confirm their safety. Next we are overcome by a palpable sense of outrage that lingers only moments.
And then, as always, we become numb to it all.
That last sensation is a natural human reaction to tragedy. Numbness (or in simpler terms, the “I can’t deal with this right now” mode) is a protection for brains overwhelmed by events. Unfortunately, this is the end of the cycle for most people whose experience with random violence is from a distance.
That leaves the prevention, i.e. the heavy lifting, to those whose lives will forever be scarred by trauma – the victims, their parents, their families and close friends.
That is one reason mass shooters continue to plague us. Another reason is less about logic and more about emotion. It is our own morbid fascination with the troubled individuals who gun down innocents and the mass media that feeds our self-destructive fetish.
Consider another familiar cycle: Mass shooting occurs; images of the killer appear everywhere, in newspapers and broadcasts; details of his warped life are published and scrutinized.
This pandering and pathetic coverage of obscene violence has become the new norm. It is why the vast majority of people might be able to recall the names and faces of mass killers from Columbine, Virginia Tech or Aurora, yet have no memory of their victims, the police officers who tracked them down or even the brave civilians (like SPU’s John Meis) who thwarted the gunmen.
Consider the remark attributed to the suspect in last week’s shooting, who stated in a previous police report that he wanted the SWAT team to “get him and make him famous.” Like many lone gunmen, this disturbed young man was savvy enough to anticipate that bloodshed begets notoriety. If not fame, then at least infamy.
And we share the blame as we blithely devour the details. Forget the fictional realm of Stephen King – this morbid fascination is a reflection of our own voyeurism, our sordid appreciation for the meltdowns that only Jerry Springer and Maury Povich can produce.
That is why we must reconsider the focus of such catastrophic news stories. Instead of fashioning another pseudo-celebrity out of the distorted life of a homicidal lunatic, the media should condemn them to the anonymity which they so richly deserve.
In this endless cycle, which has descended on our region yet again, we must recognize the brutal facts. Our fascination with salacious stories are the weapon. The narcissistic killers are the projectile.
And we are the target.