While many were shopping and counting down the days before Christmas, devastating news swept across America. This news contained few of the answers to the myriad of questions we would quickly ask, but gave more information than we could digest. A friend told me in the store as I was shopping for gifts from our PTA for some needy children at our schools that, “Someone shot and killed 20 children and 6 adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.” My heart plummeted. I could only call on God. Words cannot describe this horror. Imagining what their parents were feeling was and still is just surreal.
Meanwhile, prior to this tragedy, our 5th grader Jocelyn Martin, had an assignment to do for counseling. She had to write an essay on “Why I think the Grinch Stole Christmas,” based on the book or the movie, “The Grinch that Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Jocelyn wrote this: “I think the Grinch was experiencing a lot of emotional health problems during this time. The emotional things I think he was experiencing was the feeling of nobody liking him. The sadness of being unloved might have turned into anger. He might have wanted to get revenge on the Who’s by taking their Christmas. Since he didn’t like Christmas and the Who’s did, he used that to get them back. I think the Grinch should’ve managed his anger better. He could’ve managed his anger better by doing something to blow off steam. For instance, he could’ve played sports…”
This poignant perspective from a child’s eye spoke to me as I wrestled with why would someone do such an awful thing to these innocent children, teachers and people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This was awful enough as a tragedy told of unsuspecting victims, but I realized that yet another American tragedy was unfolding regarding the perpetrator. Many accounts had referred to the shooter as “evil”. But even though all of the facts were not in, I wondered if the shooter could have been a “victim” himself, through life itself. Some had speculated that the shooter had a mental illness but his reported diagnosis is believed to be, Asperger syndrome, a higher form of the Autism spectrum. (CNN was still confirming the specific diagnosis independently.) Autism is not a mental illness at all, but rather, a “neurodevelopmental disorder.” “There is absolutely no evidence or any reliable research that suggests a linkage between autism and planned violence,“ stated the Autism Society. Just as we wouldn’t conclude that his race was the cause of the shooting, because he happened to be white; we must not conclude that this developmental condition was the cause, just because he happened to have autism.
But let’s learn more about this sickness that strikes millions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network,“the most recent research from the ADDM finds that 1 in every 110 eight-year old children were diagnosable for an ASD.” We must make sure that all students including those with disabilities are receiving the support they need. We must ensure that our schools have adequate resources to execute 504 Plans and other requirements as detailed in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Protecting our children also includes making certain they do not get shoved off the Fiscal Cliff where $900m might be cut from Special Education under IDEA for 2013-14, and that’s not all of the cuts!
As my son, Cameron’s wife, Raydia Martin, law school student at Loyola University in Chicago and a social worker intern at Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois reminds me, “Even though the shooter had a sickness not known for violence, other emotional stresses could have contributed to his choices on that day. We must be concerned with how such stresses could impact any child who has them.” Other testimonies have come forth from people who knew the shooter’s family that vaguely sketched some various “possibilities” that could or could not have led to this massacre. This in no way attempts to blame the mother-who was also killed by her son, but possibly might reflect his frame of mind. According to CNN, the mother’s friend stated that the shooter, Adam Lanza, did seem to be “very withdrawn emotionally“. A narrower definition of neurodevelopmental disorder does impact emotion, etc. which unfolds as the child grows. It was suggested by one that he was possibly feeling that his mom spent more time with the children she volunteered to help and he could have felt that she loved them more than him. Even children without diagnosed disorders might feel that a sibling or another is receiving more affections from their parents and resent it. Such resentment can be demonstrated in different ways.
We might never really know what all was going on in the shooter’s mind on that fateful day, since all of the clues were not laid out neatly for us as in the well-written story, The Grinch who Stole Christmas! One thing we do know, real lives were stolen from very real families in a real time in our real country! Murder and suicide are finite acts and don’t give room for the perpetrator’s heart to “grow three sizes” and allow for recompense to those lost lives. Even though what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School surpassed any make believe trauma in a children’s tale, I believe our American families are very resilient and will not let this tragedy steal our spirits!
I believe this series of unfortunate events will motivate experts, legislators, administrators and many more of us to ask more probing questions including: 1. How do we better identify and supply the needs for those with developmental disorders, mental illnesses, excessive emotional stresses, etc.? 2. How do we manage gun control and should concealed guns be allowed in schools? 3. How can we better prevent shootings of children across America including the hundreds killed regularly in cities like Chicago? In fact, according to the Huffington Post, in Chicago,”there has been a minimum of 42 young people killed by guns each year since 2008″! I had initiated a petition to the White House to help with violence against our children on many social media pages prior to the Connecticut shooting, but unfortunately received little support. We can see more clearly as a country, that gun violence – especially against children – is a national concern. As one family said who had recently moved to Newtown, they thought they were living in a very small and safe place. Newtown is much bigger than the imaginary Whoville in a snowflake. But now, these newcomers see the crude reality that, “If it could happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
Some children stories have a different meaning to different people but somehow stay meaningful through many generations. But we must write a new chapter to an old refrain! Christmas is about God’s gift to the world. Children are God’s gift to us! We must give the gift of protecting the lives of All of our children at all cost!
I’m thankful for the outpouring of love sent and shared with these families and hope we will share that kind of love for other families who lose children to violence in America. Thanks to the Connecticut Parents’ Union (CPU) president and Mom Congress delegate,Gwen Samuel, who launched a “Coping and Caring” Express Bus providing counseling information and activities for grieving children and families who needed and wanted to share. Gwen invited me to attend and I was very disappointed I couldn’t, but our non-profit organization, United Communities to Advance our Neighborhoods, (UCAN, Inc) is sending a donation. (Click above on CPU, if would like to contribute as well.)
If you would like to send Condolences, please address it to:
Messages of Condolence for Newtown
P. O. Box 3700
Newtown, CT 06470