On Friday, May 17, 2018, less than one week after Mother’s Day, news of a school shooting in Texas permeated the headlines. As usual, there was an outcry of outrage against the 17-year-old shooter. A call for more stringent gun controls followed, along with an outpouring of condolences to the grief-stricken parents of the victims. But there was no compassion expressed for the parents of the emotionally disturbed teen. They, too, were deeply wounded by the loss of their child. 

My hands tremble as I write. I’m unnerved by a TV interview with a teenage girl, a survivor of the shooting. She said that for her, the shooting was not unexpected. What a stunning, alarming mindset! She has been numbed by the frequency of school shootings, and expected peril in school. I empathize with her, and I shudder. I lived my childhood with such a gnawing tension of impending horror during World War II, and I see that today’s children live under a different but similar cloud of terror. 

The anti-gun faction rushed to sway public opinion with mind-boggling statistics. “There has been, on average, one school shooting every week this year.” (Saeed Ahmed and Christina Walker, CNN) “Guns have killed more Americans in the last 50 years than all U.S. wars put together.” (Columnist Nicholas Kristof) Such headlines offer no solution, polarize opinions, and incite hostility toward the shooters’ grieving families.

I recall news coverage of a school shooting on Oct. 2, 2006, in an Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A gunman shot 10 Amish girls, age 6-13, in a one-room school house, and then committed suicide. 

That same week, as the gunman’s family had a private funeral for their son, as many as 40 Amish surrounded the gravesite. The Amish stated that they had forgiven the gunman and his parents and came to pray with them in their time of grief. To my knowledge, only the Amish, and the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, have shown such compassion. 

School shootings usually are carried out by adolescent boys, seemingly in a state of a breakdown. The shootings raise questions about the shooters’ motives and their mental and emotional wellbeing. The most important question asked is whether the shooter’s violent act was an attempt at “suicide by cop.” 

School shootings could be viewed in the broad perspective of teen suicides. A suicidal teen usually is not vilified. A shooter could be considered as a victim, sick, demented, incapable of reason, and worthy of compassion. Determining how and why an adolescent’s life becomes unbearable ought to become a measure of preventing school shootings. 

Our children’s “Save Our Lives” outcry asks that the pattern of children killing children be broken. They cry out to break the pattern not only in schools but in all crime- and gang-infested communities. Children deserve to be safe not only in their schools but in their homes as well. Counselors and teachers must learn to identify disturbed, emotionally wounded children in schools. Parents, preachers and moral community leaders are obligated to do the same in their homes and neighborhoods. 

Join the discussion on social media!