Gunman kills 20 Conn. schoolchildren, 6 adults, self

Everybody in America, from the waitress at the restaurant where I just ate dinner to the owners of a shopping mall who lowered their flags to half-mast this afternoon, is consumed with the story about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., this morning. So I’m going to use this blog post to give my personal perspective on today’s tragic events.

Here in Maryland, where the county I live in has had more than its fair share of guns at schools so far this year, where I work for the state department of education, among extremely competent professionals who spend their entire days worrying about things like kids’ reading scores or Title I funds sent to schools to make sure kids get a healthy lunch, and where none of that seems to matter anymore, I’m consumed with the idea that we might as well just all stay in bed.

What good are reading scores in May if kids are going to be shot to death in December? What good is fighting obesity or, worse, hunger if kids won’t live to see their eighth birthday? But I believe things that don’t kill us only make us stronger. That’s my hope for the survivors in Connecticut as well as Maryland and the rest of the country. I have no research, say from the Columbine shooting or even from the Holocaust, to back this up, but life must go on for parents and kids who escaped the gunfire.

Then my attention turns to the brave educators, killed just for being there, who sacrificed themselves to take a bullet for schoolchildren who can’t possibly understand the love behind such an action. Dawn Hochsprung, the principal at Sandy Hook, was among the six adults killed at the school. She was said to be a very creative educator who easily won over children and adults alike. She reportedly ran an “Appy Hour” at the school with all the teachers bringing in their iPads to do a show-and-tell about their favorite teaching apps.

Would I have done what she did if kids in my classroom were under attack? With all the school shootings this year, I’ve had ample opportunity to think about that question. And when I think about it, it’s not really a question at all: I would do it without hesitation.

First of all, there’s a certain probability the gunman would miss me as I ran toward him. Second, even if he hit me, there’s a certain probability I wouldn’t die as a result or even sustain serious injuries. But third, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if my students died while I did nothing. Adults should always jump on the first opportunity to go after the shooter, since based on sufficient data from recent mass shootings, going after the shooter saves lives.

And next my attention turns to the kids I know. How should we tell them about the shooting so they still feel safe going to school? This is an especially important question given the likelihood they’ll realize how utterly unconnected the schoolchildren were to the gunman, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza. He killed his mother in her home and then drove to the school and started shooting at anyone he saw, i.e., kids.

Several local officials here in Maryland released statements about the shooting through TV stations. WMAR (ABC affiliate) ran statements by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, and County Executive Ken Ulman. In addition, the American Psychological Association provides a tip sheet that advises parents how to talk to their kids about this kind of tragedy:

… It is important, say these psychologists, to be honest. Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers, and local police. …

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.