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Tim Myers: Shooting sprees are rare but hit hard

Posted: December 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Newtown.”

This statement came over and over again from local residents of the site of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut that occurred on Dec. 14, made to the general public much more disturbing because it happened in a “nice” place rather than the hellholes the public associates with violence and crime.

I hearken back to a family vacation that we took during the summer of 2000 to the mountains of Colorado. On the way back to the Denver airport on the last day of the trip, we drove past Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where just a few months earlier the community mourned again on the one year anniversary of that deadly school shooting.

I distinctly remember how this profoundly affected our oldest son, now 24 and then 11. In looking over the familiar set of the high school next to a beautiful park and surrounded by the accouterments of suburbia, the scene seemed too familiar to him. “Dad, how could this happen here? This looks just like home.”

And that is perhaps the true horror of these events. They do happen in “nice” places where it turns out that the collective consciousness erected (now imaginary) walls of safety and hubris in the construct of day-to-day lives.

These events, though incredibly (and still actually) rare when considered against the vast backdrop of people and communities in the nation and indeed the world, concern us due to the insurance concept of the “low frequency-high severity” events when compared to the more common “high frequency-low severity event.”

Take the example of automobile safety. All across the country every day folks are driving children to scho,ol and a boatload of accidents occur (high frequency), but most tend to amount to property damage and little else, particularly with current auto safety standards (low severity) so just some inconvenience and no big deal. Therefore, everyone buys and most states require the purchase of automobile insurance to cover this risk; well understood by all.

But then consider the issue of a child abduction on the way to or from school. The actual numbers of child abductions in the nation approach ridiculously low levels (low frequency) but one worries about this rationally due to the high severity of the event, the permanent loss of a child.

In light of recent events, we turn to the subject of school safety. Now many are the troubles and travails of attendance at any public or private school. Knees are scrapped and cuts are opened up, sometimes requiring stitches to close. Feelings are hurt and, based on the assertions of certain advocates of charter schools, creativity is crushed. And that does not even begin to address the awful scars placed on one by the comprehensive high school, hopefully mostly absolved by the grand experience of college.

But all these things occur frequently, and despite what we or our parents might think at the time, they carry very minor consequences, and certainly pale in comparison with the horrific consequences of school shootings; think Columbine, Virginia Tech, Jonesboro, etc.

News organizations even forget to put on their timeline the case of Kip Kinkel of Springfield, Ore., currently serving a 111 year prison sentence without the possibility of parole for first murdering his parents and then shooting up his school but only managing to kill the modest number of two before students intervened and disarmed him. That incident in 1998 seemed to get the current run of school shootings started, but the chances of any student from K-12 to college and beyond still stands at the incredibly low chance of one in hundreds of millions; cold comfort for the families of the victims in this parade of horrors.

What solutions can one find? Consider the horrific case of Carole Nordella, a local crony of my Nebraska bride in the late 1990s. Nordella, the wife of a physician, related to the Mom’s Club group that Valencia just seemed too “dangerous” and moved her family to an isolated ranch in the Santa Rosa Valley near Simi Valley, homeschooling her children.

On the morning of May 31, 2005, one Toby Whelchel, who had murdered two people the day before, would invade the isolated home and murder Nordella before taking his own life in the Simi Valley Wal-Mart with police closing in.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen in (insert name here).”

Timothy Myers is a Valencia resident. “Myers’ Musings” runs Saturdays in The Signal.


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