I'm tired of asking 'why?'

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 As I sat Friday morning absorbing the news about the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., my thoughts turned to the night before, at Hinds School in Peoria. I sat with a couple hundred others watching the students there sing Christmas songs.

My twin granddaughters are the kind of kids who really get into music and it was so much fun watching them dancing on the risers on stage, singing loudly and having a blast. I smiled more than I had in quite a while.

I cannot imagine the horror being felt today by the parents and grandparents of those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I had a knot in my stomach all day, as I am sure most people watching it unfold did as well.

As much as our country and law enforcement experts have done toward identifying foreign terrorists intent on hurting us, is there more we can do to identify domestic terrorists before this kind of tragedy occurs?

I know calling somebody like the Newtown shooter a domestic terrorist may not be popular but I don't know what else we would call him. He went to that school with the intent of taking out one target but also killing many others and then himself. Those actions terrorized a whole nation that watched it unfold live on television and will frighten children and make them fear going to school. Isn't that terrorism, regardless of how far you stretch the definition of that word?

Maybe I'm just trying to make sense of something for which there isn't any to be made. I do know I am getting tired of asking "why?".

Could there have been warning signs this shooter was capable of this? Should we expect to see warning signs? If so, what might they be?

I chatted with Dr. Tim Drew, a Peoria psychologist who specializes in children about some of these issues and one of the first things I asked was, what do parents tell their children about what happened? He said parents nationwide are wondering that today. His response surprised me, but his explanation made sense.

"Nothing. In my firm opinion tell them nothing, especially the younger kids, grade school kids. They don't need to know this. It will only terrorize them. Middle school kids, if they hear about it, talk candidly but focus on school safety issues. Don't dismiss it but be careful not to over-dramatize it," he said.

Drew also said to emphasize that this sort of thing is a rare occurrence. "It is a tragedy and one the whole country if not the whole world is paying attention to. But statistically speaking the safest placer for a child is school. I don't mean to diminish it; it is a tragedy no matter which way you look at it."

So are there signs that parents or teachers or people in authority should look for in people to better ward off a situation like this? Drew said he has no personal experience of counseling somebody who then went out and hurt others but has done much research about it, especially because he deals with children who may have been abused or abandoned or are troubled in some way.

"I don't know that there are signs as much as similarities. When you consider some who have done evil acts they are usually people who try to rationalize and minimize what they are doing. We always hear, of course, that people who do these things had trouble in childhood, whether they were physically or sexually abused or bullied. There is always somebody with some axe, some pain, some type of victimization real or perceived. But not all of them go out and hurt others.

"If you think you have a troubled child, because of something they've done or said, get help. Get them help. Talk to a professional, a spiritual leader," he said.

Drew acknowledged people will spend days poring over every detail of the shooters's life and trying to make some kind of sense of the tragedy, but he doesn't believe they will arrive at a logical conclusion.

"Trying to make rational out of something totally irrational is an exercise is futility. There will not be a positive outcome. The question really becomes, what was he thinking when he did this? In my opinion, there is nothing that could have happened in this shooter's life that justifies this. This is probably an issue of anger and at the root of anger is fear. It is not rational to think that the only way to deal with anger or fear is to hurt others," he said.

Drew said studies have proved "it is very rare to discover that someone who has done this was rational to begin with."

For that reason Drew, who said he supports the 2nd Amendment, doesn't think a lot of debate about gun control, debate that has already started in response to this tragedy, will yield any answers. "Certainly you can put laws out there that have the intent to stop something like this, but they won't stop it. It is not just a matter of trying to control guns," he said.

Rather, Drew believes our culture — or rather changes in our culture through the decades — is a big part of the problem today. "We now have this culture that disregards personal responsibility, disregards life. We've created a culture of individualism and selfishness. We need to teach our children emotional regulation, forgiveness and joy. We don't teach those things any more.

"Our children need to learn sympathy, empathy and compassion —a higher order of thinking. And we need to teach them how to grieve," he said.

I asked Drew about my belief that this action in Newtown, Conn., amounted to domestic terrorism and he said he understood the point I was trying to make.

"When we talk about a domestic terrorist our first thought is usually Timothy McVeigh. His action in Oklahoma City was about his battle against the federal government. The people and children he killed? He considered them collateral damage. Usually we think of terrorism as an action meant to instill terror with some perceived higher end in mind.

"In cases like this one (in Newtown, Conn.) shooters, in much the same manner as a terrorist, rationalize their behavior and justify their action while minimizing human life. When they do something like this and it is not self-defense or justified, then that is terrorism. We are here in the Midwest terrorized by something that happened on the east coast because we are seeing it live," he said.

It was terrifying to watch and to think about. It is terrifying to think about the possibility of copycats and that it can happen anywhere, at any school.

I don't want to think about it, nor does any parent or grandparent. But we can't help it.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).