Horror in Connecticut: Media the Problem, God the Solution

As the horrifying news and images from Connecticut continue to unfold, we continue to learn, whether we care to or not, more about 20 elementary school children and six adults who were shot to death inside their school.

As the news continues to unfold, we are also learning more about a disturbed, mentally-unstable, 20-year old man who perpetrated this heinous and cowardly act. Before arriving at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Friday morning, he also shot and killed his mother at her home, where he also lived.

We all know the name of the murderer. He does not deserve any further notoriety.

And that, I believe, is at the core of why we continue to see shootings in schools, as well as malls, movie theatres, post offices and other public places. From the moment the first bit of news began to flow out of Newtown, Connecticut, horrified people across the country rightly began to ask the same question: Why?

I believe the answer is simple.

The Media.

As long as the media continues to magnify and, unintentionally glorify, horrific acts such as Friday’s massacre in Connecticut, we’ll continue to see copy-cat killers. Hours and hours of network and cable coverage, personal profiles, interviews and analysis turn these brutally senseless murders into high-drama stuff, the kind that encourages those who often fit the profile of mass murderers to envision themselves becoming “famous” and thus getting the attention they feel they deserve.

In recent years, the profile of these murderers most often involves a young man who is often a loner or outcast with few if any friends. He has perhaps been emotionally and physically abused and ignored and quite often, he is seeking two things:  revenge for real or perceived mistreatment and the desire to be somebody – to be famous.

Friday’s murderer in Connecticut has been described by his own brother as smart, but a “computer nerd,” a loner and possibly suffering from a developmental and personality disorder such as autism or a milder form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. We also know his parents were divorced.

So, where did this disturbed young man possibly get the idea of breaking into an elementary school  and mowing down innocent children? For all intents and purposes, it started in Columbine in 1999 and has continued to this day. We remember the Virginia Tech killings and others before and since. We remember the hours and hours of media coverage.

Before Friday, very few people knew the Connecticut cold-blooded killer’s name. Now, he’s a household name who will be forever immortalized in the annals of our country’s mass murders.

You can thank the media for that.

As I was watching the media coverage of this event Friday afternoon (who could avoid it if you turned on a television?), I couldn’t help but think of the character Laura Ingalls and her little schoolhouse on the TV show Little House on the Prairie. Why weren’t young men mowing down innocent school children more than 100 years ago? Who didn’t carry a gun in those days out on the prairie?  Could it be that if such an incident happened in 1875, there’s a good chance that the majority of the country wouldn’t have known about it? Without hours and hours of news coverage, analysis and personal profiles of killers, such heinous crimes – and the murderers who seek fame and recognition – would go largely unnoticed.

Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut has some crying for stronger gun control policies. It should be noted that on the same day on the other side of the world, a man in China burst into an elementary school and stabbed 22 children. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 and wounded hundreds with a fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995. Radical Muslims killed 3,000 in New York with airplanes in 2001. Evil exists in the world and its evil and people that kill other people. The instruments that are used in that killing vary. If evil wants to kill, it will kill. It’s our society and our values and how we care for those who are mentally ill or cast to the fringes of society that needs changing.

Another question that is being asked is why does God allow things like this to happen? I saw on Facebook Friday this posting:

                Student:              “God why did you allow this to happen in our school?”

                God:                      “Sorry, I’m not allowed in schools.”

Perhaps somewhat trite, but also true. But beyond schools, we live in a culture where families have turned away from God and society has pushed God out of nearly every aspect of life.  Remember, God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – if anyone moves, it is us from God. He is unchanging in his love for us. When God is absent in our lives, it’s inevitable that sin and evil will fill creep in to fill the void.

I picked up my two daughters from school yesterday with a heavy heart. I hugged them tight, then hugged them again and again. I’m sure all parents gave their children extra hugs yesterday.

Let’s continue to pray for the lives of the innocent who were lost, their heartbroken parents, whose pain I cannot even imagine, and for our country and world. We have to take a harder look at ourselves, our values and what much media coverage we allow into our homes when tragedies like this occur. 


Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.