The drive-by media left Little Falls last week after the Byron Smith trial, and drove almost directly to Waseca, where a 17-year-old was caught preparing to blow up the junior and senior high schools. Both of these incidents hit home for me, since I live in Little Falls, and Waseca, which is almost identical in size, is my hometown.
My wife and I still read the Waseca paper, and a few weeks before the story broke, the paper had a news article that debris from a small bomb had been found on an elementary school playground.
If I were sitting on the front steps of the house in which I grew up, I could see that school, one block away. I still know every square foot of that area.
After the story broke, it came out that more bomb debris was found in the parking lot of the church I attended, one block in a different direction.
The would-be bomber allegedly planned to kill his family, set a diversionary fire to distract first responders, then go to the senior and junior high schools with six pressure cooker bombs plus firearms, detonate the bombs, shoot the school liaison officer and as many other staff members and students as possible until the police killed him.
A friend from Waseca tells me that the community believes the boy comes from a loving family and that he had a normal amount of friends. He wasn’t a loner. School staff can’t understand how they missed the problem. Obviously the boy has some sort of mental illness,, but I’m no psychologist.
Regardless, it doesn’t appear that the psychologists know how to solve what seems to be a growing plague in our society — disaffected people who decide to leave this earth in the company of as many unwilling souls as possible.
And the problem doesn’t really hit home unless it’s your kid or your kid’s school or your hometown.
When 27 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut a couple of years ago, except for the families of the victims, the world moved on to the next atrocity.
In the Waseca incident, which will rapidly fade from view because catastrophe was averted, I have two thoughts, neither profound. As I said, I’m no psychologist.
First, news reports say the bomber had three bombs in his bedroom and three more in a storage facility.
The storage facility proved his undoing because, most people who go to a storage facility, open up their space and either put something inside or take something out. This kid entered the space and shut the door behind him. That was enough to move an observant neighbor to call the police.
What’s interesting, however, is that he had three bombs in his bedroom, but nobody else in the family noticed.
I have to admit, when our children were growing up, if it had been left to me to monitor, I may have noticed live giraffes in their rooms, but not much else. However, the Secretary of Health and Human Services at our house, my wife, would have investigated if so much as one extra ball bearing was rolling around on the floor.
Our home was not a democracy. It was a very benevolent dictatorship, and the secretary also served as CIA director. Although their rooms often looked like explosions in an underwear factory, thanks to her, they always had clean clothes,, and she was observant when she hung those clean clothes in their closets. She would have known if three pressure cookers were needed for an Eagle Scout project.
Many parents say, “I trust my child.”
Our attitude was more like Ronald Reagan’s in negotiating a strategic arms treaty with the Soviet Union, “Trust — but verify.”
Second, I still think that culture makes a difference. Turn on the TV on any given evening, and we no longer have morality tales like “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best” or “Ozzie and Harriet.” Instead we have gruesome crime shows, in which even the good guys are flawed.
The fact remains, most kids turn out great. The problem is only those few that don’t. It’s the trend that is most concerning.
One Internet site lists all the school shootings since 1950. These include teacher-on-teacher shootings and shootings on a school playground when school wasn’t in session. The numbers look like this: 1950s: 21; 1960s: 17; 1970s: 23; 1980s, 30; 1990s, 40; 2000s, 48; 2010s to date, 105.
Perhaps the numbers are skewed because of better reporting, but here are numbers from the FBI on shooting sprees at both K-12 schools and colleges in which two or more people were killed: 1920s, 1; 1930s and 1940s, 0; 1950s, 1; 1960s, 2; 1970s, 3; 1980s, 4; 1990s, 10; 2000s, 7; 2010s to date, 5. About 40 million Americans are between the ages of 13-22, the most likely ages to attempt a school massacre. The chances are about one in 40 million that someone will commit mass murder at school in any given year.
We can turn our schools into fortresses. We can put police in every school. We can put X ratings on all movies with violence, but we won’t be able to escape the moral decline of which the increase in school shootings is only one symptom, until and unless we decide as a culture that we aren’t going to give our money or our time to entertainment that helps tip those few vulnerable young people over the edge.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected]