My Thoughts on Newtown: Control, Stigma, Evil, and Love

December 15, 2012 · 7 comments

in Things to Think About

People stand outside a vigil at the Saint Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo Courtesy: Reuters

In the aftermath of the incredible tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, I found myself desperately seeking answers. Who did this?…Did he have a troubled childhood?…Was he let into the building?…Did he have a grudge against someone in particular? Some of these questions have been answered, some have yet to be, and others will never be. At the root of it all is one simple question with a complex answer:


I suspect that each of you reading is also trying to determine Why. Seeking the Why is natural, because we believe that if we can figure out Why we can prevent it from happening somewhere else. We think we can protect ourselves. We think we can have control.

But, of course, control is an illusion.

From all reliable news accounts thus far, the staff and first responders in Connecticut did everything right. The school had security procedures in place; in the moment, quick-thinking individuals, like the custodian who ran through the halls yelling warnings and the individual in the office who quietly turned on the PA system, improvised methods of warning the teachers and students; unlike in some previous school violence incidents, the police didn’t hesitate to enter the school; at least one teacher hid her students from the gunman, leaving herself exposed, and died as a result.

What else could have been done?

History tells us that the shooter likely had mental health issues – they always do. And common sense tells us so, as well – how could he coldly murder children as young as five and NOT be in poor mental health? Early news reports indicated he had Asperger’s Syndrome. The rush to compartmentalize this man who did such evil – and, in the process, stigmatize a whole population of individuals who happen to share a syndrome with him – sent a chill through my veins.

People with disabilities (and those with mental health issues) already struggle with being Other. It is difficult enough to be different, because it makes people uncomfortable. How much worse would it be to be a different that makes people fearful? Fear is a powerful motivator, and unfortunately fear sometimes leads to projecting the title of The Enemy onto others. When one is labeled The Enemy, unspeakable horror can follow.

So I’m resisting the urge to find out Why.

Because there will never be a clear, easily digestible answer to Why. Instead, I’m putting my hyperactive, seeking brain to work finding out more about all of the people who stood up to the face of evil and said to it, “You shall not pass.”

There was only one face of evil at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, but there were many, many faces of Good. The evil is beyond explanation – there is no satisfactory answer to the Why. The Why of the Good is much easier to understand: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

The Good was motivated by Love.

It is natural to react with horror and fury. It is natural to seek answers and point fingers. But to honor the victims who died and the heroes – both those who survived and those who did not – we must struggle in the days ahead to follow their example and Love.

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Jennifer December 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm

“The rush to compartmentalize this man who did such evil – and, in the process, stigmatize a whole population of individuals who happen to share a syndrome with him – sent a chill through my veins.”

Thank you for saying this, Andi. As the mother of a teenage son with Asperger’s, I am very concerned about the ramifications for individuals on the autism spectrum, and with AS in particular.

My heart breaks for all of those affected by the tragedy.

~ Kim December 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Well said. And truth be told, no matter what the “answer” is as to why, no one is EVER going to say “Oh okay. That makes sense. I would have reacted the same way.” The why doesn’t matter in the least and what we should be asking instead is “what can I do to help?”. Not just today and not just those parents, but every day to anyone who might need it.

Laura December 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm

You echoed my thought exactly. I was a teacher before my oldest was born and I know the intense love teachers can feel for their students.

Considerer December 16, 2012 at 6:30 pm

“But to honor the victims who died and the heroes – both those who survived and those who did not – we must struggle in the days ahead to follow their example and Love.”

Yes. Amen to that.

Koen January 2, 2013 at 1:14 pm

NRA spindoctors have what I can only describe as a “us v.s. them” mentality.
They want you to believe that we can trust “sane” people with guns, and they blame all the gun violence on “insane” people.

In reality “sane” people can suddenly become “insane”. We do not have the money and knowledge needed to correctly diagnose every single person. In order to protect the children we should ban the guns, but of course the NRA disagrees with that.

I live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It is very very hard to find a gun here. Killing someone without a gun is still possible, but much harder.

Homicide rate per 100.000 inhabitants:
USA 5.6
NL 1.2

Andi January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I respectfully disagree with you, Koen, on the question of whether we should ban guns. But I won’t debate the issue, as that’s not what this post was about.

Koen January 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Hi Andi :-)

True, and debating about that kinda stuff is depressing anyways. I can assure you that we have a similar percentage of “insane” people here in the Netherlands.

We disagree about certain topics (guncontrol, religion) but I think we have a lot more things in common.

For a “sane” person its probably impossible to truly understand why the perpetrators of the recent school shootings did what they did.

I compare the psychosis to phobias, they are irrational too, so I guess it is probably impossible to fully understand why certain people are so afraid of certain harmless things (if you don’t have the same phobia).

I use quotation marks around the words “sane” and “ïnsane” because I think these concepts are ill-defined, in criminal and mental health law sanity is a legal term but it is not a medical term.

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