Let’s Contemplate the Whys

I don’t want to write about death. I especially don’t want to write about the violent shooting deaths of two teens. I’d rather not meditate on the grief of those teens’ parents, or step into the thoughts and questions I can only guess are spinning through their minds. The what-ifs and whys. Particularly the whys.

But I can’t help myself. Otherwise I just keep rerunning through my mind the memory of that moment last Tuesday morning when, just as I walked out of my husband’s home office, he exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”

I spun back around to see him crouched before his computer, where he must have been doing a last check of his email before leaving. My heart stopped. We had just been getting ready for our work day while talking about the kids’ schedules and, as we often do, our thoughts about their recent frustrations or excitement over new successes. Mostly we discussed our children’s worries and how we could best help them navigate the various obstacles and challenges of entering adulthood.

“What?” I asked, my heart suddenly feeling like a large rock in my chest. This must be something bad about one of the kids, I thought. He just looked at me with his eyes wide and looked back at the computer.

What?” I insisted as I charged over next to him. He quickly shut his computer and then said, “One of the scouts from our troop was killed last night. He and his friend were shot while sitting in their car. They were supposed to graduate today.” I looked at him shocked yet confused. Then he told me the name. “Do you remember Artem?” My mind instantly pulled back to a memory of being in our cabin in Western Maryland several years ago with a gaggle of Boy Scouts for a weekend of skiing. I could easily pick out Artem, one of the few scouts to actually talk to me and offer to help with the dishes without being asked. He profusely thanked me for each meal. He was easy to remember.

Suddenly all the worries we had right then as parents about our children seemed so insignificant. Here was the worst tragedy any parent could contemplate, and something that couldn’t be fixed. At least not for them. Not now.

Two days later, my son – now in college – was still troubled by the news. He posted on Facebook: “I’ve had difficulty navigating my emotions and sense of reality following this horrific and senseless tragedy that occurred in my hometown Monday night, but I feel compelled to speak through the heartache.” He described a fond remembrance of his fellow scout and his bafflement of why such a crime happened in his hometown where “a diversity of ethnicities and backgrounds share in the American idea of safe homes, green yards, and renowned schools… The fact that 23 bullets were fired at these two young men makes no sense…. Like all of us, I want what is lacking right now: Answers. Arrests. A sense of security.”

For our young people, I think that’s exactly what they – and their parents – want: A sense of security. But how do we get that? We work every day to guide our children, to trust them to tell us when they need help, to trust them to make the right decisions, as they grow older and seek more and more independence. Yet the one thing we all grapple with – security in today’s world – we cannot solve alone, can we? Do we just accept violence as a fact of life? Do we just accept that either the police are or aren’t doing their jobs to keep communities safe? Do we return to discussions of whether criminal sentencing should be tougher or more lenient, whether gun control laws should be stricter or more relaxed?

We don’t know why these deaths occurred yet. As I write this, the police reportedly have not apprehended any suspects. But regardless of the circumstances, two teens didn’t make it to their high school graduation. Two sets of parents – and their families – didn’t get to keep working, and celebrating, with those teens as they made their way further into the world.

Certainly it isn’t the first gun crime in Germantown, Maryland. And there are many around the country. (According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 33,600 people died due to firearm injuries in 2014 alone.) But after each death, the next day dawns, the next political scandal rivets us to the news, the next activity appears on our own family schedule, and still there is no solution. And now there seems to be not even any discussion.

In the 1950s, juvenile crime and “delinquency” was skyrocketing, so Congress held a series of hearings to investigate potential causes – including even violence in media content. No conclusion could be found. In the years since, Congress has periodically taken up the issue of violent crime and fears of escalating crime, and adjusted guidelines for sentencing in hopes of keeping repeat violators off the streets. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, gun control efforts were quickly blocked.

Many groups on both sides of the gun control issue continue to push – or fight – legislation in states around the country. Yet the sides rarely come together for open discussions on a way to solve violent gun crime – at least not long enough to find a solution. As one source said to me when I was interviewing her for an in-depth article on efforts to legalize concealed handguns on college campuses: “It’s almost like the abortion debate, where everybody is so entrenched on their side that they won’t listen … It’s the people who haven’t really thought about it much and have an open mind you want to get involved.”

On this beautiful summer Saturday in June, neighbors are out mowing their lawns, preparations for more graduation parties are underway and vacation plans are being discussed. But in one part of our community, preparations are being made to say goodbye to one young Eagle Scout. We will go and share our condolences with the family and share in treasured memories of their son.

But, regardless of the other daily duties and distractions, I hope our community and others around the nation can talk about these violent crimes and how to end them. We need to talk about how to help our kids feel safe — and be safe.

-Christina L. Lyons

2 thoughts on “Let’s Contemplate the Whys

  1. Kristin Merrill says:

    I appreciate you sharing the personal side of this story. It’s important to talk about how this kind of devastating loss affects many circles of people far beyond the victims’ families. I agree that we all feel helpless to address the issue of gun violence, especially when we don’t have any answers about “Why”. I hope that the authorities will be able to uncover clues about this tragedy, to provide justice for the families and friends of these two exceptional boys.

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