Even for Fred Wilson, the peaceful voice of reason amid violent irrationality, the shootings of little children in Connecticut defy rational explanation.
Will the horror of mass killings ever stop? After this massacre of innocents, will such unspeakable incidents somehow come to a halt?
“They will never end,” Wilson said calmly. “We will never end this. It is societally out of control. We will never, so to speak, be safe in this world.”
As chilling as that thought may be, we must admit it is true. A parent in Newtown, Conn., said people thought their small town was the safest place in the world. But no place in the world is safe — not even small-town New England classrooms.
Wilson, 66, survived the shooting five years ago this month at the Von Maur department store in Omaha that left eight people dead — plus the 19-year-old shooter, who killed himself. Several others were wounded.
Fred learned of the Connecticut shootings when he arrived at work Friday — at Von Maur — and saw people watching the news bulletin on TV. He didn't immediately learn the extent of the horror.
I called the main number at the store hoping to reach him and was surprised to hear the mellow, unmistakable voice answering: “Von Maur. This is Fred.”
He still works part-time at the store, and often has spoken publicly in the past five years. When I told him the number of dead Friday, he responded quietly, prayerfully: “Oh, my Lord.”
The latest shootings come as children in Christian families anticipate Christmas and Santa Claus and the celebration of the Lord's birth. Families shop at stores like Von Maur, and they drop off their children at schools like the one in Connecticut.
And they never anticipate a day like Friday — or all the other days that come and go with explosions of violence.
Debra Scharf, a fifth-grade teacher for the Elkhorn Public Schools, stopped at Von Maur recently and made a point to say hello to Fred. Deb's brother, Gary Scharf, died there in the 2007 shootings.
He had been shopping. She and other family members didn't learn of his death, early in the afternoon, until 10:30 that night.
Each time a mass shooting occurs, she said, the sadness comes back with “that horrible numbness.” She feels for the families of the victims. As a teacher, Friday's slaughter especially hit home.
“I just think of all of those precious children,” she said. “The victims and the ones still alive and how much healing they will need.”
She feels for the school staff, too. Every school in America practices fire drills, intruder drills, lockdown drills. Visitors at many schools need permission to enter.
At the Connecticut school, a new security system required every visitor to ring a doorbell at the front entrance after the doors were locked, and to report to the main office to sign in. The shooter was the son of a woman who may have been connected to the school. How do you stop someone bent on mass violence?
Scharf said students at her school left Friday before the shootings were generally known. She was glad that her fifth-graders' parents would be able to talk with them over the weekend.
When students return Monday, she said, she hopes they feel safe and know that the Connecticut shootings, as horrible as they were, were apparently not random.
Fred Wilson, a former high school teacher, believes that the fictional violence in video games, movies, TV shows and other sources contributes to real violence in young males.
“Why are we subjected to so much blood and gore?” he asked. “Why are these shows on every night depicting bludgeoning and the hurting of one another? I have trouble with that.”
He was not thinking merely of mass shootings. Street shootings, too.
“We know in Omaha,” he said, “that it's a daily thing for guns to be involved. I can't believe how easy it is for people to get them — and the number of them out there is just unbelievable.”
Though Fred sees no end to the violence, he doesn't just throw his hands up in despair. He folds them in prayer.
Disturbed people who are capable of such violence, he said, “have to turn to God, embrace their faith and embrace themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors.”
No matter how hopeless their lives seem to them, he said, help is available and they should seek it.
Unfortunately, some seek something else — blaming others, they commit atrocities on the innocent, leaving untold anguish in their wake.
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