I feel like we, as a society, need to address something. In the aftermath of horrible tragedy, such as the shooting in Newtown, CT, we remember the victims of these senseless crimes. This is as it should be. The innocent people killed or maimed through no fault of their own, having no warning, no chance to save themselves, not even the courtesy of being able to hug their loved ones one last time. This touches the very core of our humanity because it directly impacts our ideas of right and wrong.
However, how come we, as a society, do not rally also around the family of the perpetrator(s)? If we really sit and think about it… what pushes people towards this? What breaks down their spirit so much, sucks all the joy out of their life, and makes them rationalize an action such as this? What hell had that person been living in, and for how long? Could someone have stepped up and made all the difference?
A memorial in the town holds 26 candles for the victims of the shooting. There is no candle for the perpetrator or his mother, both of whom also died.
Sometimes, the perpetrator is the biggest victim of them all. Recently we saw another tragedy… that of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse that lost her life as a result of a radio prank imitating the Queen of England. The DJ’s of the Australian radio station were successful in obtaining medical information about the Duchess of Cambridge. My heart especially breaks for this woman because I work with nurses and I know their personalities. When things go wrong, nurses often feel directly responsible and simply cannot live with themselves, even if it was no fault of their own. In the aftermath of the original incident, although no blame was levied on Mrs. Saldanha by any party involved, she took her own life.
The perpetrators of this action are still alive. They are very much alive, and they are young. They will have to live with what one very stupid decision did… for the rest of their lives. Not only have they been shunned by all of society (globally), they have lost their careers and there is no chance of them ever being employed again. They also will have the shoulder the guilt of Mrs. Saldanha’s death. She was a beloved wife and mother, who was respected by many people. She was an innocent that got dragged into a mess they created, again, with their stupidity.
They said in an interview they had no idea it would go this far. I believe them. I don’t believe any person would be that malicious as to go out of their way to make another person that they’d never met take their life. Their lives as they knew them are over. They ended the moment they picked up that phone to make that call. And now there is nothing left for them and they must rebuild.
The husband and children of Mrs. Saldanha at her memorial service in London, December 15, 2012.
But they will never shake the guilt, they will never stop thinking of the woman they hurt. When they look into the eyes of their children, they’ll remember the children that woman left behind. Mrs. Saldanha’s family is broken and they will be without her forever. Holding yourself rightly responsible for that is hell… a hell that will last at least 60 years. My heart breaks for them.
This is not the first time a school shooting or a tragedy has occurred in the United States and it will not be the last. But we do not have to have the same reaction. On October 2, 2006, a man walked into a small Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He let the male school children go, along with the adults (all whom were either pregnant or the mothers of small children). He then bound the girls and proceeded to shoot them execution style before he turned the gun on himself. The oldest girls volunteered to be shot first to give the police more time to save the younger children. 5 of the 10 children lost their lives.
A makeshift tribute to the victims of the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting on 10/02/06.
What followed was unprecedented. The Amish found the family of the perpetrator who lived 6 miles away in Strasburg. They walked in to find the perpetrator’s mother, Terri in a fetal position. Upon hearing the news of the shooting, and the location, Terri had believed her son died trying to save the schoolchildren from a gunman. When she arrived home, the police informed her that her son was the gunman, that he had shot 10 children, and that he had committed suicide.
Her husband, Chuck, was crying into a towel. No words could console either of them until an Amish neighbor walked in and said simply to Chuck, “Roberts… we love you.” He wouldn’t leave until Chuck had removed his face from the towel and ceased crying. One by one the families of the girls came, and they came with the most precious gift of all… forgiveness.
What drove the shooter to commit such an act happened 20 years before, when he lost his first child as the result of a miscarriage. His life descended into turmoil as he was not able to communicate the pain he felt. He did not have an anchor to grasp to, he renounced religion. The shooting was his last attempt to make someone else feel the pain he’d felt for the last 20 years.
His family was able to pick up the pieces of their lives with the help of the Amish community. Chuck, a retired police officer, works as an Amish taxi. His wife Terri speaks about their experience in churches and at conferences. Both visit the families of the victims, and often invite them to come to their home. One of the victims of the shooting, Rosanna, was paralyzed. Terri goes to her house once a week and helps with her care. Rosanna’s parents don’t understand how she can do this, because the pain of the memory is too great for them on some days.
The reaction of the Amish to this unspeakable tragedy is a model for us to learn from. Forgiveness is difficult on the best of days, seemingly impossible on the worst. But the perpetrators of these crimes are also human. They also had families, friends, pain that they buried until it manifested as pure evil. As we think about the victims of these tragedies, we should think about all of them. The children and their families, the shooters and their families, the nurse and her family, the DJ’s and their families. Pain is not confined to one side of the equation, it’s spread equally among all of us in the world. That is why I believe it is not wrong to have compassion and sympathy for the people who make these wrong choices. They are all victims and should be remembered and cared for equally.
On the Newtown, CT shooting (December 14, 2012):
“‘Why? Why?’: 26 Dead in Elementary School Massacre” by Susan Candiotti and Chelsea J. Carter – CNN
“Connecticut School Shooting: Obama Calls for Action” by BBC News – U.S.
“US School Shooting: Profile of Suspected Gunman Adam Lanza” by BBC News
On the radio scandal and suicide of Mrs. Saldanha (December 4, 2012 – December 15, 2012):
“Aussie DJ Scandal: Does Radio Share the Blame?” by Thom Patterson – CNN
“Jacintha Saldanha: Children describe ‘unfillable void'” by BBC News – UK.
“Prank Call Radio Station to Donate Funds to Nurse’s Family” by Laura Smith-Spark and Marilia Brocchetto – CNN
“Radio Personalities Apologize for Prank Call to Duchess’s Hospital” by Brad Lendon – CNN
On the Nickel Mines shooting in PA (October 2, 2006):
“Students Killed by Gunman at Amish Schoolhouse” by John Holusha – NY Times
“Mother Cares for Her Son’s Amish Victims” by Daniel Burke – USA Today