A couple nights before the Florida school shooting that added at least another 17 innocent souls to our nation’s humiliating body count, I dreamed about Sandy Hook.
Actually, the images that haunted my unconscious were more specific and local. I dreamed about the sweet baby faces of those 6- and 7-year-olds who had been shot and killed by a 20-year-old heavily armed gunman in 2012.
I can only assume I had this dream because last month I saw so many of those faces on the crosses made by Auroran Greg Zanis — pictures I shot with the camera in my phone when I toured the warehouse where he was making and storing the thousands of white memorials he’s displaying at murder sites in the Fox Valley, in Chicago and across this nation since the Columbine spring of 1999.
It was an unsettling dream, and in the morning I remember commenting to a family member that it’s been more than a few months in between mass shootings … between the kind of headlines that will bump Trump tweets off the 24-hour news stations and get everyone in America once again chattering about mental illness and gun control.
I guess that’s why, ever since the news alert about Stoneman Douglas High School flashed across my phone Wednesday afternoon, I’ve not been able to think about much else.
Which is why I felt the need to write something about it. But what? What in heaven’s name is going to be said in the next few days or so — after which White House controversies will trump all cable news again — that’s not been said before?
What makes the murder spree in Florida all the more disturbing is that it occurred — coincidentally? — on the 10th anniversary of the mass shooting at the campus right down the road from us. Five Northern Illinois University students were shot and killed and 17 others injured in gunfire on Feb. 14, 2008, before the perpetrator, a former student, took his own life.
Like the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion and the 9/11 terrorist attack, the details of that horrendous Valentine’s Day massacre will be forever etched into my mind … even more vividly than the dream I had a few days ago about the faces of innocents slaughtered in a Connecticut elementary school classroom.
Sandy Hook. That was the truly unimaginable shooting — victims included six school staff members and 20 children only a few years out of diapers — that was really going to change things. If I were a betting woman that’s where I would have put my money.
I’m glad I’m not a betting woman. And I’m even more glad I’m not one of those lawmakers who must continue to answer the tough questions.
Which, of course, puts me back on the subject of gun control and mental illness and why we as a nation seem incapable of doing anything except offering thoughts and prayers as our children are being slaughtered on such a consistent basis. The story, unfortunately, is starting to sound like the same old, same old … with only the names of the innocent and the evil changing.
What does make this most recent tragedy different from the vast majority of these shootings is that police were able to take the alleged gunman alive. And what he has to say will hopefully help psychologists and professors and police and politicians and pundits figure out some of the workings of such a depraved mind.
Certainly the shooter left plenty of other clues behind: including a frightening social media footprint and equally alarming accounts from his peers who saw him as a weird loner who allegedly killed animals and abused females. All of which begs the questions: Did anyone try to get this young man the help he was so desperately crying out for? Was there really no way to stop him from purchasing an AR-15, especially in light of reports the FBI had been alerted to some of his social media rantings months ago?
There I go again, with the whole gun control and mental illness thing. As if writing about any of this is going to keep any more innocent faces from showing up on white crosses.
Even as I write those words, Greg Zanis is making more of his memorials and will eventually be loading them into the new truck he received from a grateful Las Vegas community who witnessed first-hand the importance of those healing symbols last October. And as soon as he gets enough funds for the trip — an online fundraiser has been set up at http://bit.ly/2HpZw0X— he will head to Parkland, Florida.
Then, at some point, those memorials — either the originals or duplicates — will join the stacks of crosses that once were piled in his Aurora garage but have recently grown so tall they must be stored in a warehouse on Lake Street.
I started this column with a dream. And I will end it with another: That we as a nation come together and figure out — in God’s name and/or one attached to a Congressional bill — how to make this carnage stop.