Saturday, December 14, 2013

One Year Since Sandy Hook. How Has Newtown Changed?

It's been one year since the horrifying shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.  

Words cannot express the sadness felt by the nation today.  In towns and cities across America, vigils are being held.  Moments of silence.  Memorials.  I hope you can join one.

The people of Newtown have chosen not to hold a memorial event, but rather to endorse a "year of service" and a candle in the window.  This, after "26 Days of Kindness" leading up to today.  It is a way to reflect without the crush of press, which can be so difficult to deal with on such an emotional day.  The community grieves.  Said Newtown resident and psychiatrist John Woodall:
So the work of grief is to find a new form for that love, to find a new expression for it, a new commitment, a way to honor the love. And so, again, we came back to this idea that a commitment to transform that anguish into a commitment to compassion and kindness, that’s where we wanted to keep the focus. And that’s something that goes beyond a day. It’s something that we want to be part of the culture of the town.”
They've started a special page, called My Sandy Hook Family, to commemorate the movement going forward.  There you can click on a name of one of the victims, to read about them.  From their "About" page:
This website is intended to serve as a singular place of sharing, communication, and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day. allows us, the 26 families, the opportunity to honor our loved ones in a way that feels right to each individual family.
And there are links to the Sandy Hook Family Fund, to aid the families in their recovery, and the Sandy Ground Project, to build playgrounds in the name of the victims.

Statements have been made by politicians, like the Governor of Connecticut, and the White House, but statements won't change much.  Only actions can change our society.

More important are statements from the families of the victims, and other residents of Newtown.

From an NBC news article:
“It seemed like a very meaningful and elegant way to mark the year for us,” Terri Rousseau, 63, Lauren’s mother, said Wednesday.
Of the time since the shootings, she noted the journey had been difficult.
“I’m just grateful that we managed to weather it,” she said, at moments breaking down into tears. “We were very much debilitated by grief at some points, but we were still able to do our jobs and do some advocacy and spend time with friends and family, and that’s about the best you can hope for.”
Rousseau, like some other Newtown families, said she wouldn't be in the small Connecticut community on the anniversary of the shooting on Saturday. Town officials have asked media and outsiders to refrain from traveling there to give the townspeople privacy and avoid triggering traumatic memories of the nation’s second deadliest mass shooting.

Alissa Parker, mother to Emilie, has turned away from grief and come to a sense of peace with herself.  From an article by her:
Love, it is so simple and yet so powerful. Love connects us all with each other. Love is what forever connects Emilie to my heart. God has shown me how beautiful life truly is when you learn to forgive and feel true peace. It has not been an easy journey, but I have learned so much about being patient with myself. I don't have to hold on to anger and I don't have to hold on to pain. There have been times where I felt like I HAD to hold on to the dark things, like it was some responsibility I was supposed to carry. But Emilie's life was about color and joy, not about pain and suffering. Natalie has taught me to roll away from the things that irritate me and to reach out and hold the hand of my baby and smile instead.
Life has to go on.  Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, reflects on her wedding day without her mother, a day that her mother had helped to plan.
"We had almost the entire wedding planned together and I did it exactly the way that she wanted it to be. I knew that day would have been perfect for her. It was perfect for me. It was perfect for my husband. And I knew she was with me."
The families share a connection in their grief and recovery.
“It’s a kind of club that no one wants to be a part of,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. “You don’t know them personally, but you do. You’ve got that connection.” 
Heslin finds comfort in talking about Jesse, but most of the time he knows the people listening can't truly empathize. That changes when he’s at a dinner organized by an advocacy group, or speaking at a press conference, or chatting with a survivor he’s just met. 
“You don’t go out intending to meet other members of the club, but you come into contact with them. It’s somewhat of a secure feeling, a comforting feeling, when you’re associating with these people. It’s not awkward at all when you’re together. You have the common ground of your loss.”
Some have turned toward action, advocating for stronger gun regulation to help prevent further tragedies.  For instance, the daughter of Mary Sherlach, the Sandy Hook school psychologist who gave her life trying to protect "her" school.  Maura Sherlach Schwartz is now a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America who recently advocated against arming teachers:
What I don't see — and I hope never to see — are teachers walking around with loaded weapons. After the shooting at Sandy Hook, I watched in shock as some argued that arming teachers and administrators would make us safer. 
I disagree wholeheartedly. The presence of guns in schools will always increase the risk of gun violence, whether through accidental or intentional use. As a teacher, it sickens me to think of my administration, my colleagues, even me, being pressured to carry guns. 
I find it hard to understand how many of the same people who want teachers like me to come to class armed have done so little to keep guns away from people who shouldn't have them. Even though more than 90% of Americans favor background checks on all gun purchases, Congress has failed to act on common-sense reforms that would save lives.
Another who has turned to action is Carlos Soto, the teenage son of Vicki Soto, one of the teachers who died in the shooting:
But the Newtown groups and families have continued to visit the Capitol in the months afterward to lobby for the legislation, though prospects for Congress to approve it in the near future are dim.
None of that dissuades Carlos Soto, the 16-year-old brother of slain Sandy Hook teacher, Vicki, whom he described as a second mom. The high school junior has traveled nine times to Washington, D.C., to push for gun control and works with several groups on that mission. He gives speeches on the issue, too.
“I want it (Sandy Hook) to be seen as … the turning point in gun reform because that’s what it truly is,” he said.
He said his family was honoring the legacy of his sister with their activism. But her death takes an ongoing toll, he said, noting how hard it would be to spend another Christmas without her.
“I don’t think anyone's ever OK after something like this,” he said. “We all just learn to live the new life that we live and learn to cope with what happened.”
Some of the parents, as part of Sandy Hook Promise, call for action:
Members of the campaign spoke with hundreds of other parents around the country–gun owners, non-gun owners, Democrats, Republicans, independents, and individuals from different faiths and economic backgrounds–during the past year to hear their opinions on gun control and to discuss possible solutions. 
They discovered that people want to take action in their communities to help prevent violence, and that unconditional love for their children transcends all other issues, Hockley said. .... 
“It’s not so much about waiting for Washington. People don’t want to wait to be told what to do,” Hockley said. “They want to be involved in the solutions themselves.”
Some have also launched a campaign to make schools safer, through a program called Safe and Sound, and Get Ready Get Safe, which hopes to help children survive disasters.

However they now define themselves or what they are doing, it's clear that, after the tragedy a year ago, Newtown will no longer be the community it was, and its residents were changed forever.

One Newtown resident and now-activist, Monte Frank, sums it up best when he says that "Newtown" is no longer just a place, but is now a movement:
While we cannot bring back our 20 children and 6 educators in Newtown, or the more than 30,000 other victims of gun violence, and we certainly cannot fathom the pain of all of the families, we can honor them with action. Before the vigil, the broad coalition of Americans descending on Washington will be working in shelters and delivering Ben's Bells made the day before at a boy's school in Washington. We are asking you to perform an act of kindness in your community. 
These are days Newtown should be proud of. Newtown has opened its doors to the entire nation and has given a voice to those who did not have one. Newtown has shown the world that from the darkest depths, humanity can rise above, and good can prevail over evil. We are Newtown. We are all Newtown. We choose love. LOVE. Get on the "bus" and join the Newtown movement. Honor with action.
My action will be to call for stronger gun regulation, such as universal background checks, better mental health screening, mandated safe storage of guns in homes with children, and other such commonsense regulation.  A moment of silence shows respect, but the best memorial for the loss of our loved ones to gun violence is to call for changes to keep guns out of the hands of those who would abuse them.  No more silence.  It's time for action!

Today, we are all Newtown.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Year Since The Clackamas Town Center Shooting, But The Trauma Hasn’t Ended

Memorial to victims at the entrance to
Clackamas Town Center mall (source)
(UPDATED -- See below)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Clackamas Town Center shooting, here in Oregon. 

On December 11, 2012, an aimless and possibly suicidal 22-year old man, Jake Roberts, entered the mall with his friend’s  AR-15 semi-auto assault rifle, put on a hockey mask and load-bearing vest filled with multiple ammo clips, and opened fire, moving from store to store and into the food court and firing more than a dozen shots.  I blogged on this when it happened, illustrating how Roberts had a dangerous love of guns.

Luckily, his assault rifle jammed.  But the damage had been done.  When it was over, 15-year old Kristina Shevchenko was wounded, and two adults, Steve Forsyth and Cindy Ann Yuille, were dead.  Roberts then went to a secluded part of the mall and shot himself to death.

Naturally, those who were at the shooting were traumatized.  One mall employee who witnessed the shooting is still traumatized by it one year later.

"It's hard to really talk about," he said. "I'm on edge. It will always be in the back of my mind. I'll always be looking over my shoulder, especially during this time of year. It's something that kind of sticks with you."

Another witness to the also continues to be traumatized.

Amber Spackman was at Clackamas Town Center on December 11, 2012,  trying on dresses with her mother and sister, when the shooting happened.  The memories, and the pain, are still very strong.

"For me it's been a huge impact," Spackman said. "I'm mad at the person who did it. I get angry a lot. Some days I am okay with it. Some days I am really not."

"I think about it every day," said Spackman. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about any of it."

(In the comments section, the gun guys tell her to just “get over it” and question her calling herself a “survivor.”)

But the most poignant examples of the effects of a shooting come from the young shooting survivor and the families of those who were slain.  Some have decided to take action by promoting stronger gun laws.

Young Kristina Shevchenko’s body has healed from the wound, and she will be at the memorial service, but, according to an article:

[T]he teen said it’s difficult to talk about the event. Asked how she was doing, said "it's complicated" and declined to elaborate.

The brother-in-law of Steve Forsyth mourns for him.  From an article:

I didn't sleep very well last night, I can tell you that," he told KOIN 6 News. "I stopped and saw my sister last night and I'm going to try and see her later." ….

Kemp said his sister -- Forsythe's wife -- and her two daughters are doing the best they can under tough circumstances. They decided not to attend a vigil on the anniversary.

But Kemp knows what he wants to happen next. He's fighting for tougher background checks for people obtaining guns. He's not against guns, he said, but something must be done to stop this happening again.

"If you're tired of the shootings and tired of seeing these things happen and covered in the news you need to speak up. We can not be a silent majority," he said.

The father of Steve Forsyth mourns his son, too.  From an article:

This was a special time of year for Steve Forsyth, the holiday season.

"He loved to decorate for Halloween," Ron Forsyth said. "He loved to decorate for Christmas.  He loved to carve a turkey. And none of that happened."  ….

"I have moments," Ron said. "I don't see it coming. Just triggers a memory and I go crazy for a while. Then I crawl out of it and keep going."  ….

"You'd think it would be more protracted than 1 minute and 46 seconds, because it certainly made a dent on me and a lot of people forever. But the event itself was short," Ron said.

It is a struggle for Ron, and he looks for ways to cope, reading books about grief and talking with his best friend, Joyce.
"I've told her a couple of times, 'Stop the world. I want to get off,'" he said. "It doesn't work that way."

The family of Cindy Ann Yuille have turned their mourning into action.  Both her husband, Robert Yuille, and her daughter, Jenna Passalacqua, now advocate for stronger gun legislation to prevent more families from feeling their pain.  From an article:

[Cindy] was normal. A normal lady. A perfect wife," he told KOIN 6 News recently. Dad and daughter both chimed in on how she cooked from scratch, sewed, did "organic before they were popular."

You start thinking about how the situation at Clackamas could've been prevented," Robert said, "and you start putting things together like there needs to be some changes."

Once strangers to politics, Jenna and Robert are now immersed in advocating for stricter gun laws, hoping to appeal to both sides of the debate

In April, Jenna testified to Oregon lawmakers. "There are smart, reasonable ways to reduce gun violence that are supported by most Oregonians and most Americans," she said at the time.

The family now speaks out for what they call The Silent Majority.

"Everyone has a right to have a gun in America. That's how we live," Robert said. "Not going to change that. But we have to make people responsible for their guns if they're going to have them."

"What we've said all along is that this isn't about taking anyone's guns away. It's about being responsible with your guns," she said.
There are no rules for widowers with wedding rings. I've looked it up. Didn't know how to behave," Robert said. He  paused, fighting back tears. "But, yeah, going to move on, so it'll come off. It'll come off soon."

"My mom was killed with the first bullet that was shot. So even if there was some 'good guy with a gun', that wouldn't have stopped my mom from being killed.", Jenna said. "She would still be dead."

"We need to stop the first shot from being fired, " said Robert.

Jenna wrote an op-ed, stating:

In the United States we are free and proud to speak our minds, go where we please and own guns if we want. Until my mom was murdered, I didn’t think twice about feeling safe in a mall, school or movie theater.

But in 365 days, I’ve become a different person. I’m driven to take action. Gun violence left a gaping hole in my family, tore apart our community and showed us we aren’t immune.
I’m working with Oregon Alliance to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns to combat gun violence because while no single solution will prevent all massacres, we can still prevent more families from experiencing this grief.

While Oregon already requires background checks on guns bought from dealers or at gun shows, private gun sales create a dangerous loophole that caters to criminals, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous individuals. Background checks help prevent those people from getting guns — and they’re supported by 81 percent of Oregonians.

Tonight's memorial service is a good start, with a moment of silence, but we can't remain silent afterward. We have to work together to demand action from our legislators and create a new trajectory for our communities away from gun violence.  As Paul Kemp said, "We can not be a silent majority."

UPDATE (12/12/13):  Click HERE to read a short article on the memorial service with a photo gallery of the event.  Members of the Yuille and Forsyth family were present, as was Kristina Shevchenko.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Does Iceland Have So Few Officer-Involved Shootings Compared To The U.S.?

It's the scenario that all law enforcement officers train for, but hope never to use:  a seemingly routine traffic stop or investigation of a suspect suddenly turns into a life-and-death shootout.  It happens all the time in the United States, where there are as many guns as there are citizens.

In just the last two weeks here in Oregon, there have been five law enforcement shootings that I'm aware of:

  • December 6: Silverton, Oregon:  Sheriff's deputies chased a suspect in a stolen vehicle. While searching for the suspect, there was a shootout between the suspect and at least a couple deputies in a Christmas tree field.  Both the suspect and one of the deputies were wounded.
  • December 6: Halsey, Oregon:  A Salem police detective was passed by a reckless driver on Interstate 5. When the detective pulled over the driver, the driver then got out and threatened the detective with a gun.  The detective then shot and wounded the driver.
  • December 3: Fairview, Oregon:  Police and sheriff's deputies performed a welfare check on a man acting erratically at an apartment.  The suspect then fired upon by the officers, and was subsequently shot and wounded.
  • November 23: Bend, Oregon:  An officer responding to a reported break-in shot and killed the suspect.
  • November 21: Eugene, Oregon: A school resource officer at Churchill High School made a traffic stop of a man who was riding a mini-bike next to school. The driver then attacked the officer, armed with a gun, knife, and hatchet. The officer then shot and killed the suspect on school grounds.
That's one law enforcement personnel injured, three suspects wounded, and two suspects killed, in just two weeks, in Oregon.

And those, of course, don't represent the many other non-law enforcement shootings and gun crimes in Oregon in that time.  You can see these and others reported at the Oregon Shootings Facebook page.

It was with those shootings in mind that I read a surprising article about Iceland.  You see, on Monday, December 2, Iceland had its first-ever fatal shooting of a suspect by law enforcement.  The suspect died.

That's right.  Let me re-state this for the record:  In the 69-year history of independent Iceland, no law enforcement person there has ever had to shoot to death a suspect while in the line of duty!

In fact, most police don't even carry firearms.  Violent crime is almost non-existent there.  From an article:

"The nation does not want its police force to carry weapons because it's dangerous, it's threatening," Arnorsdottir says. "It's a part of the culture. Guns are used to go hunting as a sport, but you never see a gun." 
In fact, Iceland isn't anti-gun. In terms of per-capita gun ownership, Iceland ranks 15th in the world. Still, this incident was so rare that neighbors of the man shot were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film.  
The Icelandic police department said officers involved will go through grief counseling. And the police department has already apologized to the family of the man who died — though not necessarily because they did anything wrong. 
"I think it's respectful," Arnorsdottir says, "because no one wants to take another person's life. "There are still a number of questions to be answered, including why police didn't first try to negotiate with man before entering his building. 
"A part of the great thing of living in this country is that you can enter parliament and the only thing they ask you to do is to turn off your cellphone, so you don't disturb the parliamentarians while they're talking. We do not have armed guards following our prime minister or president. That's a part of the great thing of living in a peaceful society. We do not want to change that. " 
Did you catch the details there??  The police department apologized to the suspect's family!  And even the prime minister and president don't have armed guards!

And neighbors "were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film."  There's a reason why other countries compare such shootings to America.

Iceland rates 15th for civilian gun ownership rate out of 178 countries, according to (the U.S. is 1st).  There are 30.3 guns for every 100 citizens there (the U.S. now has 101/100 people).  These guns are almost exclusively used for hunting and target shooting, not self-defense. Despite all these guns, there have only been 5 shooting deaths in the last year in Iceland, with four of those being suicides.  Compare that to about 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S., 11,000 of those being homicides (you can also see crime statistics at the Icelandic police page).

So what is Iceland doing right?  According to one article, there is almost no drug problem, and because Iceland is a socialist nation, there is almost no class distinction.  But the real kicker is gun regulation.

Despite being awash with guns, those guns are heavily regulated to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.  Unlike the United States, Iceland requires gun licensing, gun registration, strict recordkeeping by dealers and manufacturers, and markings and tracing of all guns owned and sold.  Iceland also takes part in all United Nations programs to prevent illegal trade of small arms, such as the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty and the U.N. Firearms Protocol, neither of which the U.S. has signed.  As with other such nations around the world that have such regulations, shootings are almost non-existent.

If only it could be the same here!  Unfortunately, police have to arm themselves against the legion of criminals and mentally insane who can, so easily, arm themselves with guns in America.  Sadly, far too many have to draw their weapons in the line of duty, and a disturbing number wind up getting shot by the suspect.  The Officer Down Memorial webpage memorializes them.  At least 27 have been shot to death in the line of duty in 2013.  Recently I wrote about one who died here in Oregon in early November, reserve officer Robert Libke, shot to death by a mentally-unstable man who had set fire to his own home.

Sadly, here in America, we have a culture of violence, where the "open carry" gun crowd, like this advocate, call for open insurrection and even attacking police if they "feel" their rights as gun owners are being infringed.  "Do you have the spine to cross that line?" said that advocate.  With an atmosphere like that, and easy availability of guns to criminals, it is little wonder that police have a dangerous job here.

Our men and women in blue are heroes every day.  Let's protect them by demanding rational gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.