Amidst tears, accusations, political posturing and reactionary solutions, many of us are sitting in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre not knowing which way is up. As law enforcement professionals that work with children, our initial reaction is to try and establish any preventative methods so we can keep something like this from happening again. Unfortunately, although we can discuss many issues such as gun control, mental health and school security, there really isn’t an answer to why this happened. My editor, Frank Borelli addressed this perfectly in his column when he explained there is no reason why. Without a reason, there’s no way to prevent it from happening again. We can certainly take measures to address deficiencies we find based on hind-sight and we need to keep ourselves from becoming apathetic due to the passing of time (we as Americans have proven our ability to have very short memories) or the inability to find a fixed, set answer that will solve this problem for all time (there isn’t one). Throughout this whole tragic week, one thought kept occurring to me as a mother and a juvenile justice professional, “Which would be worse: having my child be a victim or the perpetrator?”
Death of a Child
By the grace of God, I do not know the pain of losing one of my children. Thankfully they have not been lost to me by accident or intention. I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain of having my child taken from me especially by the violent action of another. My mind won’t even allow me to contemplate the sheer desolation, helplessness, guilt and grief that must occur. Literally, my mind will not allow me to think along those lines. If the pain of imagination is even 1/1 millionth of the pain of actually losing a child, I can’t handle it. To be a parent, such as one who lost a child in Newtown, I can only speculate at the racing of the mind. “Why?” “How?” “Who could have stopped this?” “What could have stopped this?” “Why my child?” “What were his or her last moments like?” “Why could I not protect my child?” Tears stream down my face as I write these words and try to speculate on what these devastated parents’ thoughts must be. I don’t know if the anger occurs now or later, for I would think the next thoughts would be directed toward the killer and his family and then to society as an enabler of violence and glorified killings. I can see my grief turning into a hate so vivid it would be debilitating.
One of the benefits, I believe, of being the bereaved parent would be the support. To have your family, community and individuals around the nation and world reiterating, “Your child was an innocent and we failed him or her.” There is not any blame on a parent that sends their kindergartener off to school. Both the child and the parents are victims of a tragedy that was no fault of their own. They are true victims in the connotation of the word.
Death by my Child
But what about the other side? What about the parents of the person who commits the atrocity? Regardless of their age, although the younger they are the more it seems the world looks to their parents for answers. In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, as with the Thurston High shootings and Columbine, conversation abounds about the killers’ home lives and parents. So many conversations, as well as media headlines, focus on what the parents should or should not have done. If her son was mentally ill, she shouldn’t have had guns in her home. His or her behavior must have been odd. Why didn’t one of the parents do something about it like seek mental health or law enforcement assistance? If they did, but didn’t get an adequate response, why didn’t they try harder? All of these questions have been swirling around my head and in my office for days. On top of these questions, I had to stop and ask myself, “What if it were one of my boys? Would hind-sight show me I should have recognized something in them that was murderous and would I know what to do with it? Would I not have guns in my home? Would I have one of them involuntarily committed?” But at the heart of this, “Would I even know?” A fellow parent friend of mine told me once, “You cannot be credited with your child’s successes and you cannot be faulted with your child’s failures.” Although we can parent to the best of our ability, and I do believe most of us do, the outcome is not always what we would wish. Especially in law enforcement families, I have listened to tales of anguish over the poor choices of our children. Some have committed crimes, choose to live on the street and abuse drugs and alcohol. Some have been incarcerated and some have died making these choices. We weep for them and we judge ourselves. God forbid one of my children chooses to go into a school and kill innocent children and their teachers.
As I watch the media, politicians and society try to find a reason behind the senseless killings in Newtown, I can’t help but feel most of the dialogue is based in fear. If we don’t find something to blame, some key that we will be able to identify before it happens next time, we are left feeling helpless. It means we live in a senseless world where evil can happen to good people anywhere at any time. That is the reality. Those of us in helping professions, including juvenile justice can’t bury our heads in the sand or give up in despair regardless. We have to continue working together to keep things as safe as we can with sensible policies, rules and regulations. And mostly we have to keep functioning in society. We will continue to go to the movies and to the mall. We will continue to send our kids to school. We need to assist those who need mental health services and help identify those who might be struggling. We need to act swiftly when faced with the darkness that exists in the world. I still haven’t made the choice between whether I would rather be the mother of a victim or the mother of the perpetrator. I don’t think I will ever be able to answer that. Hopefully I will never have any experience to decide one way or the other. Be safe and hug your loved ones. I know I am.