Your GetReligionistas have, from time to time, asked editors and reporters to ask the "Why?" question in that old journalistic sequence, "who, what, when, where, why and how." That question can be pretty hard -- hellish even -- in some stories linked to tragedy and disaster. The Los Angeles Times did just that in the wake of the latest in our nation's long line of school shootings. The editors let Stephanie Simon -- often praised at this blog -- launch out into a first-person meditation on her experiences covering these stories and the questions that haunt her. Why? Indeed. This ran in the often experimental "Column One" feature.
Now, it is hard to debate the journalistic merits of first-person writing, especially about eternal questions. So read it. Period.
It starts where you would expect a journalist to start, if she lives in Littleton, Colo.
I cried a long time on my hotel bed that night, thinking about their faces. So many children -- 14, 15, 16 years old -- drawn tight with grief and exhaustion.
It was Tuesday, April 20, 1999, and two boys had just killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School here in this Denver suburb. I had attended an evening prayer service, listening to students whisper their fragments of fear:
"He was shot twice. In the back."
"Right in front of me."
"My sister ... "
I wanted so much to hold my 11-month-old baby, my Hannah, to keep her home, safe, forever.
In the years since, I felt that same shakiness with each school shooting I covered. In each city, on each campus, the same empty words echoed: It's a senseless tragedy. Our hearts are broken. We never thought it could ever happen here.
So why did it happen, time and again? There had to be answers. I sought assignments that would bring me close to those who might have them.
On one level, the search is for logical answers, perhaps facts and details buried in the lives of those who chose to kill. Of course, this implies that people around them should have seen those details and done something to prevent the tragedies.
As you would expect, some of this creates a Catch-22. Young people see these events on television. They get ideas. One of the experts calls this "mean-world syndrome." And the guns are everywhere, legal and illegal. The schools keep starting new programs to promote safety, to stop the bullies from doing that they have always done.
Then there is mental illness. Some people hear voices. Then they kill.
Are there answers? Simon does not find any and, to my surprise, once again the ultimate questions of absolute good and absolute evil are missing. This is a first-person piece and this is, for Simon, the end.
Hannah is almost 10 now. ... On Friday morning, my husband and I sat down with Hannah and her younger brother and sister for a talk before school. We told them what to do if they ever spotted anyone with a gun in school: Forget calling 911. Don't worry about finding a teacher. Hit the floor. Crawl away and hide.
I hated to scare them. But my search for answers had led to only one truth: It will happen again.
Yes, it will happen again. Why?