Last week we watched and listened in horror as news broke of the mass killing of 21 people at the Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Two teachers and nineteen children, all under twelve, had been finishing their last day of school before breaking up for the summer when the killer, eighteen years old Salvador Ramos entered their classroom. He opened fire with an AR-15 he bought legally on his 18th birthday, systematically killing his victims whom he had taken hostage after blocking all their escape routes.
It was the worst US school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 26 people dead.
While there are hundreds of shootings that have taken place at schools across America in the past 23 years, leaving broken homes and broken childhoods in their wake, there have been 11 which have been classified as mass shootings. The FBI define a mass sahooting as an incident in which four or more victims, not including the perpetrator are killed.
Trying to Save the Children
Any kind of murder whether it comes under the heading of ‘mass murder’ or not is to be greatly regretted. However, there is something particularly disturbing about those involving children which happens on school grounds. We expect these to be safe places, in ideal circumstances functioning as second homes, which seek to nurture and bring out the best in the young people given into their care.
We automatically consider children to be in need of the protection of the adults who surround them. In the context of Uvalde, it is particularly poignant that the two teachers who died did so trying to protect their little charges. Irma Garcia, a mother-of-four, in the words of her nephew, John Martinez, “passed away with children in her arms trying to protect them.” Eva Mireles, mother of a grown-up daughter Adalynn Ruiz, who affirmed that Eva “jumped in front of her students to save their lives”.
In a future tragic twist, Joe Garcia, Irma’s husband, died after a heart attack on Thursday morning shortly after leaving flowers at the memorial site for his wife and other victims of the shooting. The couple left behind 4 children, the oldest aged 23 and the youngest only 12.
This is a pointer to the tragic ripple effects of these horrific events where the consequences are both wide-reaching and long-lasting. Trauma is something that doesn’t leave us after the event which caused it has passed. When anyone experiences any type of traumatic incident where their life was threatened or the life of someone they care about, and they survive that phenomenon, it leaves the potential for severe to very severe mental health concerns such as depression, substance abuse, persistent and serious anxiety or suicide thoughts and gestures.
In April 1999, Missy Mendo was a 14-year-old freshman at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado when two students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire killing 13 people. Mendo was physically unharmed, but she said that the near-miss experience left her with emotional scars and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the Autumn of this year, her 4-year-old daughter is due to start pre-Kindergarten. However, after the shootings last week in Uvalde, Mendo cannot bring herself to complete the paperwork. At least not yet. Mendo still lives in Colorado and is director of community outreach at The Rebels Project, a support group for survivors of mass shooting.
She observes in a very poignant quote, that after that horrific day her, “School felt like the safest place in the world because it couldn’t have happened twice…but then again, we thought it couldn’t have happened in the first place.”
A 2021 Study found that many mass shooters in America suffered from a mental illness that wasn’t being treated when they committed their crime. “Without losing sight of the larger perspective that most who are violent are not mentally ill, and most of the mentally ill are not violent, our message is that mental health providers, lawyers, and the public should be made aware that some un-medicated patients do pose an increased risk of violence”, wrote researchers led by Dr. Ira Glick, from Stanford University School of Medicine.
The stress here is important because there is a stigma that exists where people presume that everybody with mental illness must be prone to violence. Mentally ill people need support, kindness, and compassionate treatment. They have enough problems without being demonized as potential killers However, the fact does remain that it is easier in America to buy a gun than to buy a beer. Basic gun reforms such as mandatory background checks have majority support among Americans.
As we look at the faces of the beautiful, innocent children whose lives were so cruelly taken, we pray for their families, those of Irma and Eva, and all the victims of this violence, that God will grant them the grace to cope with their terrible burden of sadness and grief and that they will feel the healing hand of His love during these most difficult of days.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan