Latest shooting raises question 
about our ‘geography of violence’

“Just letting you know I’m going to Denver. I will be safe.”

Needless to say, that characteristically minimalist text from our son caused a moment or two of anxiety Friday afternoon for his parents, both unaware yet of the shooting at Arapahoe High School in south Denver. Son Tony was headed there to cover the breaking story for the Colorado Springs television station where he’s a reporter.

Our brief moments of anxiety obviously paled in comparison to the bewilderment and fear felt by affected students and their parents, many of whom rushed to the scene anxious and fearful until moms, dads and kids could be reunited. For the family of the one critically wounded student, the ordeal remains an ongoing tragedy.

“Hoped I’d never have to cover a school shooting, hopes were dashed today,” Tony posted on Facebook later. His recovering journalist father was pleased to see his son’s reports focused not on the admittedly necessary details about the shooter, first responders and the like but, instead, on the human side of the tragedy, the shocked and painful responses of students and parents to the brief but horrific chaos.

What is it about us, about Colorado and these sorts of incidents?

Are we truly the “geography of violence” that Denver Post media columnist Joanne Ostrow wrote about following this latest shooting? 

You could easily make that case.

Arapahoe High School is the latest in a long series of similar tragedies, beginning with mass killings at Columbine High School back in 1999. Twelve students and one teacher were killed, and 24 others were wounded there.

In 2006, one student was killed at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey by an adult shooter who later took his own life. Two students were wounded in the parking lot at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton in 2010 before their shooter was taken into custody.

Four of the 19 school shootings, beginning with Columbine, that I was able to catalogue in the United States, occurred here in our state, including the one last week at Arapahoe High School that happened just the day before the one- year anniversary of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. While the death counts there and at Virginia Tech in 2007 were higher, no other state approaches the number of separate school-shooting incidents we’ve had here in Colorado.

Toss in the mass murders in 2012 at the Cinema 16 complex in Aurora, and it would be very easy to conclude that Coloradans might indeed occupy a “geography of violence” at odds with what is likely the prevailing opinion most of us hold about our home state.

It’s been reassuring, since last Friday, to read here in The Daily Sentinel of the ongoing training to prevent such a tragedy in our local schools. From all accounts, that sort of proactive effort prompted exactly the sort of actions we’d hope for when the incident at Arapahoe High School ended just over a minute after it began as a school resource officer closed in on the shooter.

While the immediate response to this latest incident can only be described as admirable, the fact is that it remains impossible to prevent the unpreventable. No matter what precautions we take, there will always be a way for a deranged mind to circumvent them and cause what Gov. John Hickenlooper called “an unspeakable horror and something no child, no family should have to endure.”

In our family, it’s not hard to feel some empathy, blessedly from a distance. We remember our son, the reporter now covering this latest tragedy, frequented that Aurora theater during his time at film school nearby. Degrees of separation narrow while remembering he met one of the victims while at his first reporting job at an Indiana television station.

Let’s leave to others, for now, the arguments about gun laws and all the politics that will inevitably surround this latest tragic incident.

Let’s instead pray for the families involved and hope the short- and long-term healing that’ll be necessary, once again, can begin quickly and ultimately bring some relief. 

And let’s perhaps ponder what we might do to make certain we don’t inhabit a “geography of violence.”

Colorado native Jim Spehar would like his home state to be known for something other than tragedies. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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