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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

A Whole Village to Raise…Only One Madman To Destroy

The events in Newtown give us a glimpse into one man's madness and society's need to protect its innocents.

December 20, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Kelly Bracken
Photo: Kelly Bracken

Having spent an hour on the elliptical, I'd worked up a pretty good sweat and was exiting the doors of the gym last Friday when I unplugged the earpiece of my iPhone. On its screen, my iTunes workout playlist dissolved to a friend's Facebook message:

"Praying for the 18 innocent little souls and their families"

Even 30 years ago, the implications of such words would not have escaped me. But then I would have attributed the assumed fate of those children to some unfortunate misadventure something that, while tragic, had not been consciously orchestrated. A fire, or bus accident. Some structural collapse.

On this date, I did not.

Getting inside my car, I called the wife and asked her if she'd heard anything about a school shooting.

"No, hold on."

Within seconds she was relating to me what she'd found on the Internet regarding the horrors of what had taken place in Newtown, Conn.: Twenty children and six adults slaughtered. I hung up then jabbed the AM dial of the car radio and listened as still more details emerged on the horror. I found my eyes burning...probably from sweat.

Back at home, I turned on the TV. It came on with images of crying children, their little hands clasped upon one another's diminutive shoulders as they were being led single-file from the school grounds. I watched in horror at the spectacle of cameras and microphones being shoved in the faces of already traumatized kids.

What were these media ghouls thinking? Where were the responsible adults to put their calloused idiocies in check?

Interspersed with these images were still others, those of police officers rapidly descending on the school grounds, their facial expressions a mélange of courage, horror, and sensitivity. I wondered what they were feeling at the time. I thought about what they would be feeling later.

But the image that stood out was that of a terrified girl in a blue sweater sobbing in the middle of one of the evacuation lines.

A mere child.

Watching her, I recalled another child, one who'd once sat in a movie theater and watched a John Wayne movie called “Big Jake.” I remembered how he and the rest of the audience had sat silently as numerous men, women, and children were shot and killed on screen. Not until the machete death of a dog did the audience register any protest, and then it came with a collective, "Oh....!"

The child in that long ago movie theater had been bewildered at the relative weights of life that the audience had apportioned those on screen, and wondered how it was that one loss was somehow deemed more deserving of sympathy than another.

Now an adult, that same child has come to somewhat understand the gradient scale by which we measure travesties, by which we commit our sympathies, and how cruel fate can be for children whose lives were taken from them before they'd truly begun. How upon hearing that the shooter had killed himself, he could think to himself: Oh. Good.

I even understood the desire of those to find some silver lining, to somehow extract from the tragedy some profit, a catalyst for change. And the recommendations came fast and furious, and none faster than in the law enforcement community as thoughts, opinions, and speculations were shared in cyberspace. There were even comments reflecting on the number of such shooters whose tox screens would reveal all manner of attempted psychiatric chemical intervention.

On the pro-active front, some suggested that teachers should be taught to fire handguns, and armed like their Israeli counterparts (or have on-duty officers assigned to school campuses as in the state of Georgia). But while there are American teachers that might prove adept at getting target acquisition on some madman, many don't like firearms, and might not only prove resistant to such training but possibly incapable of successfully deploying them. In any event, I don't see school administrators beating down doors to get training with the same enthusiasm of those determined to have firearms seized or restricted.

Personally, I wondered why officers themselves—on-duty and not—couldn't play more of a preventative role. Within a small block of my local elementary school live at least four active or retired officers, myself among them. When my son attended it, I often wondered if the school would begrudge my occasionally sitting in some unoccupied office as I wrote for POLICE. And I had every reason to suspect that other officers would be willing to stop by the school and lend an unsubsidized vigil.

I believe that if enough cops across the country are given permission to hang around their local schools, and the practice becomes common knowledge, that it might be enough to deter a prospect contemplating an attack; failing that, it might at least mitigate the losses attendant to an attack. But then, the skeptic in me can't help but suspect that school administrators would be of a mindset similar to the proprietors of certain venues who prohibit armed off-duty cops.

As it was, I was left to contemplate the possibility of hearing gunshots and approaching sirens.

To paraphrase forest Gump, "I'm not a smart man, but I know what crazy is." I know it covers a broad range of psychologically compromised individuals, from those whose messiah complexes lead them to believe they are Jesus or the president, to the straitjacketed, foaming-at-the-mouth-gibbering-jabbering madmen. I also know that mental illness comes in more subtle forms and that it walks among us and lives with others that love and care about those afflicted with it.

Among the caregivers of the mentally ill are those who find themselves the unwitting aiders and abettors to their loved ones’ crimes. Not unlike the governor who keeps his zombie-fied daughter chained up in "The Walking Dead," they are possessed of a hell-bent astigmatism that prevents them from seeing a danger so clearly before them.

In the case of the former, not only do they fail to alert authorities to prospective threats, but inadvertently avail these people the means to carry out these threats. In Nancy Lanza's case, it was the apparently disastrous attempt to bond with her reportedly autistic son Adam through firearms.

I do not intend to made some blanket condemnation of firearms, as I am a strong believer in Second Amendment rights. But I would question the wisdom of availing arsonists matches with which to play, and given the fact that Adam's only friend was a computer screen, I have to wonder what Adam Lanza dully absorbed through it. How many rousing rounds of "Call of Duty" he might have played. How much he studied mass shootings that preceded his atrocity.

Nor do I do mean to sound callous towards these family members; indeed, they not only have my sympathy, but my empathy. In previous blogs I have written of my own familial and professional experiences with mental illness, from routinely having to respond to local mental health centers to intervene, to dealing with my own father's mental illness and having to put police hazard entries on his address.

Watching that TV and watching all of the events in Newtown, I anticipated that the days and weeks to come would be filled with renewed calls to arms by some and for nenewed control by others, and my own need to offer some thoughts if not profundity.

But sitting there I noticed that my perspiration from my workout had given way to a general dampness that adhered my shirt to my torso and I somehow felt much, much colder than when I'd first left the gym. I realized that I needed to take a shower.

A long shower.

Tags: Sandy Hook School Shooting, Active Shooters, School Shootings, Concealed Carry, Mentally Ill Subjects, Retired Officers


Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

John M. Wills @ 12/20/2012 2:44 PM

Used to be that cops would hang around certain diners and coffee shops--bad guys knew it and stayed away. Same thing could happen at schools, Dean, if the school admn would warm up to it.

The Gun Free Zone--it's not working. Off duty and CCWs can't get on the propety but the bad guys can. Something's haywire.

Steve Swenson @ 12/20/2012 3:36 PM

Well written and thoughtful comments. I know from experience how many teachers and administrators object to firearms on campus. Perhaps these recent events will initiate a shift in their thinking. Too many rush to an assault weapon ban as the magic bullet, so to speak. I am a retired LEO and I would gladly volunteer 6 hrs a week to be on a local campus to watch over the kids.

Larry Thompson @ 12/20/2012 4:05 PM

If I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that banning any and all firearms would prevent this kind of tragedy, I would whole-heartedly campaign for it. Our society has become callous to the value of life. You see it in the music industry, the television and video games. There are probably other sources as well...you get my point. Society wants to continually advance individual liberties in the name of freedom of speech. our government officials will simply exhibit knee-jerk reactions in an effort to appease an ignorant population, all in the hopes of being re-elected and gazed upon as puppet masters. I truly feel helpless to make a difference.

DaveSAM5525G @ 12/20/2012 5:58 PM

Dean thank you for your wisdom again but that's what Sgt's do!

From a mentor of mine a retired Lt with 33 years teaching in this area: and my feeling had a hard time sleeping since this massacre happened (Children).
Excerpt of Email:
Dave, I agree with you to a large extent, but the real problem with the editorial from home town newspaper, is that it is incredibly naïve. Naïve people truly believe that a law that screens out mentally ill people, or even laws that disarm all law-abiding citizens, will somehow prevent mass murders. But, despite their laudable intentions, these people live in a paper doll world. The sad fact is that even the strongest gun control measures won’t stop this kind of thing, because--unless we could somehow magically vaporize every firearm in America --determined killers live in the real world where you can always beg, borrow or steal a gun if you really want one. In addition, blaming the problem on high-cap magazines fails to take into account that even a 6-shooter can kill large numbers of frightened, unarmed victims huddling in a corner.

My tag or cut on the human side like family this is required of leadership: To always be honest. Tell it like it is and insist that our people do likewise. They set their patterns based on your, mentors examples. Garbled information, half-truths, and falsifications are extremely harmful to this cause never do this. Our people need to understand where we stand on this no chameleon affect to suit or meet needs! This will always create a leadership atmosphere of trust and confidence throughout OUR organization and a needed path to future success!

And missed indicators like the clouds roll in for weather changes there were clouds present but not noticed?

Stay Safe!

Richard @ 12/20/2012 5:59 PM

I totally agree and posted this same thought on several boards. I might even extend the offer of lunch/breakfast to Officers ? They don't have to provide it for free but a healthy lunch at an affordable price would be nice for a change and might encourage some on duty Officers to spend time there without costing the local PD anything.

john law @ 12/20/2012 11:13 PM

nice article- and to touch on the media sensationalism of it all it has become common practice now in the technology explosion to get out the story without verifying facts and to compete for the viewers the angle now has become to shove a microphone at anyone and get some blurb out about whats goin on without any regard for human decency...WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO SORTING THROUGH THE INFO AND PUTTING OUT AS CLOSE TO THE FACTS AS POSSIBLE...THE STORY CHANGED SEVERAL TIMES BUT THE IMAGES NEVER DID....JUST AS TRAGIC AS THIS SHOOTING IS THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA ATTEMPT TO SENSATIONALIZE AND STIMULATE THROUGH HORROR A DESENISTIZED NATION THAT HAS A VERY SHORT MEMORY AND IS ALL TO USED TO SHOCK AND AWE... UNTIL THE NEXT ONE HAPPENS....

Morning Eagle @ 12/21/2012 1:20 AM

Well written as always Dean. Tragically, this latest school shooting has given them an event they are using while they pretend to care about the victims while callously trying to manipulate the emotions of people that do not know anything about firearms or how they work and that it isn't the firearm, it is who is operating it. Passing more feel good laws will not solve anything but will only serve to disarm the good guys. You are quite right about the most likely attitude of school administrators and teachers because for years they have been programmed to see the gun as the evil rather than the person(s) who are misusing them. Now with the constant barrage of misinformation by the foaming-at-the-mouth commentators that in most cases do not know any more than those running the schools do about firearms and how they work they will be even harder to convince that more restrictive laws attempting to ban certain types of firearms and high capacity magazines will not solve the problem. Add to that the rhetoric being spewed out by the administration and all the follow-along politicians constantly looking for more ways to control people and we have a combination that poses a great danger to our Second Amendment rights.

Tim @ 12/21/2012 6:59 AM

Great point about coppers spending time at the schools. I wonder though, being the cynic that I am, if the schools would expect that off duty/retired dad/mom to handle the mundane things SRO's handle (i.e. student fights, truants, etc.)? I also am a 2nd Amendent proponent. Instead of focusing on the gun itself, we should focus on how it's secured, especially when there are higher risk circumstances around them (small children, mentally unstable people in the house), and on the value of life. I think people, especially kids, have become desensitized to violence from tv shows and video games. Bottom line: bad things happen to good people and you can't protect everyone from everything bad that can happen. God bless and be safe!

John @ 12/21/2012 10:55 AM

While there are American teachers that might be adept at getting target acquistion on some madman, many don't like firearms, and might not only prove resistant to such training, but possibly incapable of successfully deploying them.

1) The simple solution is to make training voluntary.
2) How many armed "professionals" only go to the range to qualify inorder to keep their jobs?
3) I'm very pro training, but how did our society ever survive before we had 6 month long police academies?

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