After enough high-profile shootings, I’ve developed a routine
First I click the back button.
When news of the Bridgewater Plaza shooting first appeared on my Facebook feed, the words “shot,” “killed,” and “live on-air” were too horrible to immediately process. So I clicked the back button and strained to untranslate what I’d read. I made my mind reduce the words to meaningless bits of data, fearful of the meaning they might generate when paired together.
This is how I initially react to shootings like the one at Bridgewater Plaza, or Charleston, or Sandy Hook.
I click the back button, then cringe at what this reveals about my true nature. Apparently, my first instinct upon seeing something tragic is to pretend that I didn’t. It’s cowardly and shameful, but what’s more shameful, and what I realize after about thirty seconds, is that my second instinct is to think about myself. People are dead, loved ones are grieving, and my chief concern is how I’m responding to their tragedy.
This neurotic self-analysis can go on forever, so I hunker down and click on the link. This time I stay on the page.
The first few news articles are brief. The incident just occurred and there is little in the way of facts. People are dead. Others are injured. Someone shot them. It happened at this place.
Sometimes there’s a video. I hover my cursor over the play button, holding an internal debate. If I click, am I contributing to the exploitation of a tragedy? Am I glorifying the shooter? Am I intruding on someone’s final moments?
Then I ask myself why I want to click in the first place. Is it to be an informed citizen? To satisfy some voyeuristic desire for carnage? Or perhaps it’s guilt. I don’t participate in the political process. I do nothing to help decrease gun violence or improve mental health care. So maybe I feel I owe it to the victims, the families, and myself, to witness the consequences of my inaction.
And there it is again. All that self-analysis. Usually, I don’t click.
It’s around this time that I start reading the comments. Facebook discussions, Reddit threads, Twitter conversations; I’m hoping someone else can make sense of everything for me. I’m hoping they can condense every cultural, political, psychological, and historical dimension of the tragedy into one fortune-cookie-sized nugget of wisdom.
When I realize I’m searching for something that doesn’t exist, I start hunting for a more practical explanation. Like everyone, I am desperate to ascribe reason and logic to an act that was likely devoid of such dignities.
Why were these people targeted? Was the shooter an enraged ex-lover of one of the victims? Was this payback? Vigilantism? Mistaken identity? If I know why it happened, maybe I can take steps to avoid a similar situation. Maybe I can convince myself that something like this could never happen to me or anyone I loved.
Then I imagine myself as one of the victims. I think about what I’d do, or what I hope I’d do, if a seemingly normal day suddenly turned deadly. Sometimes I picture myself fighting back. Other times I’m running away. In the end, though, I’m always on the ground, dying.
And then comes the inevitable. I replace the real-life victims for the people I love. Parents. Siblings. Current and former partners.
In the case of the murder at Bridgewater Plaza, I’m sitting in the control room, watching live as the person I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with suddenly screams, is shot, and dies, all while I remain stunned, unbelieving, helpless.
Before I close my computer and try to get on with the day – a thought that feels entirely selfish – I take a last, desperate look at the comments. I know what to expect, of course. Exasperation. Cynicism. Rage. Hopelessness. Hatred toward a country with a limitless supply of last straws. Still, I’m hoping for a new piece of insight, something I can cling to when this happens again.
Because this will happen again, and again, and when it does, I know how I’ll react.
Josh Kraus is a freelance writer whose work appears in many publications, including SitePoint, SkilledUp, Modern In Denver, and Dope Magazine.