Autumn has arrived. The weather has turned chilly, the summer clothes are packed away and the school shootings have started.
Just this week, there were two reported incidents. On Sept. 24, a 16-year-old boy was shot in the ankle. He was leaving Federal Way High School outside of Seattle when a drive-by-shooting hobbled him. Then on Sept. 26, two middle school boys in New Orleans shot each other with the same gun. Bang bang. They're both in critical condition.
When I heard the news of these recent shootings, my first reaction was not surprise or sadness. It was acceptance. And that's what horrified me.
Where did my compassion go?
Here are some sobering stats, supplied by The Associated Press:
* July 17, 2000 A 13-year-old boy threatens to shoot a room full of summer school students. He shoots the ceiling instead.
* May 26, 2000 A 13-year-old boy shoots teacher Barry Grunow, on the last day of school for not letting him talk to his friends. Grunow of Lake Worth, Fla. (my last hometown), was killed. He was a husband and the father of two.
* Feb. 29, 2000: A 6-year-old boy shoots and kills a first grade girl in Township, Mich. He didn't like her.
* Dec. 6, 1999: A 13-year-old boy shoots 15 rounds, hitting four students at Fort Gibson Middle School in Fort Gibson, Okla. Thank goodness he wasn't a better shot.
* Nov. 19, 1999: A 12-year-old boy took a gun to his Deming, N.M. school and shot a 13-year-old girl in the head. She died the next day.
* May 20, 1999: Toting a .357-caliber handgun and a rifle (can't have too much firepower), a 15-year-old boy shot six students at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga.
* Apr. 20, 1999: As part of a murder-suicide-revenge plot, two teenaged boys at Columbine High School set off homemade bombs and shot 12 students and a teacher to death. Another 23 were wounded.
In the old days...
If you want to go back two more years, you'll find teenage boys involved in the school shooting deaths of 16 students, teachers and administrators. More than 40 others were wounded in the hailstorm of bullets.
When I was in middle school, I cared about three things: academics, band and Kent Petit.
I was a brainy kid, the nerdy type who loved to read and often did the extra credit assignments for fun. I didn't love every subject though in fact, I often used my algebra textbook to hide the romance novel I was really reading in class. Still, I pulled high honors, and was saddened when school was closed for snow.
Band was also very important to me. In middle school and later in high school as well, I played the flute and the timpani. Although practicing was never a favorite pastime, I did bone up on my skills just before competitions. Being an overachiever, I knew it was imperative to make first chair (for the solos) or second chair (so I could play the piccolo).
And then there was Kent Petit. Sigh! He wasn't the captain of the football team or the class president. He was just this normal, nice guyand I was crazy about him. We'd spend our days writing notes to each other and sneaking kisses by our lockers. Our nights were spent talking for hours on the telephone. Sometimes we'd actually sit in silence with receiver in hand, just to be able to watch TV together ("Moonlighting" was our favorite show).
Never in those bygone days did I worry that some 13-year-old was going to bring a handgun to school and blow Kent and me away.
From Generation X to Generation ???
In eighth grade, my classmates and I were angry about our favorite song being pulled from the year-end dance because Jon Bon Jovi made a reference to sex ("You lost more than that in my back-seat, baby."). Our response? We signed a petition and suffered with a Jefferson Starship song instead.
Today kids have to wonder if their dances are going to be bombed. I learned fire drills. Now kids learn how to evacuate a school when a shooter shows up.
I'm not apathetic to these shootings. But the regularity of these horrific events has started to make me numb. When something happens once, it's news. When it happens all the time, we accept it as a part of life.
Have we finally reached the point where school is now teaching the three R's as Reading, Rifles and Running?