The news hit most of us like a bolt of lightning. Unless you’d been following it on television or online since the small hours of last Monday, we awoke to coverage of the deadliest mass shooting to date in U.S. history. No matter how many shocks this nation has endured since Sept. 11, 2001, nothing can prepare you for this kind of news getting thrown in your face. And after it all sinks in, you are confronted by the utter senselessness of one man in a Las Vegas hotel room raining gunfire down on innocent citizens enjoying a country music festival.
So you watch the news and learn of efforts by local, state and federal officials to determine why Stephen Craig Paddock, a retired accountant, property owner and sometime gambler from Mesquite, Nev., chose to connect his name to the worst single episode of killing this nation has had the misfortune of yet seeing. You hear the death toll from the carnage he caused rising to 59, the injury list topping 500 as those people who weren’t shot were hurt trying to escape 10-to-15 minutes of nightmare. Those numbers alone lead you to wonder how one person can cause such death and damage in his wake. As we learn more, the mystery deepens as to Paddock’s motivation. And the answers are elusive, at least in the investigation’s early days. “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath,” Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo summed up when asked about a possible motive.
Eventually, you draw away from the reportage due to lack of new information or inability to deal with it further as the enormity of the loss of life becomes all too real. You recall the morning after June 12, 2016, when 49 died and 58 were wounded in what had been to that point modern American history’s worst mass murder spree at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla. The anguish of those victims’ families comes back with the realization that more parents, relatives and friends will have to mourn the loss of loved ones who simply wanted to enjoy their kind of music in America’s premier playground city.
After awhile you get drawn back into your daily routine and the horror begins to fade from your mind, replaced by the everyday calm and order we bring to our lives. But the shock and questions will linger in some corner of our minds as we wonder what it is about our current society that causes such outbursts of terrific violence. In the case of the Pulse shootings, the reasons for Omar Mateen’s rampage were soon linked to his embracing extreme beliefs. That is the reality of the terror threat faced by the U.S. since 9/11 and its strike at the heart of the nation. But what is maddening are those individuals, mentally unstable and acting alone, that no one sees coming when they set out to end the lives of as many people as possible — and their own in the process. That there appears to be no way to predict or prevent these people from doing harm becomes part of a new normal for Americans, another worry in an increasingly worrisome world.
How we personally deal with such concerns is paramount to maintaining some kind of normalcy. Keeping calm is one way, offering prayer and trusting in faith is another, and maintaining the routine we’ve established for ourselves are all means of coping with such horrors. We cannot, of course, shut ourselves off from the world around us because of these incidents. We should not shun open spaces and public events because of a perceived threat. It’s doubtful that what happened late last Sunday will decrease attendance at local football games, the Battle Days observation in Point Pleasant or next weekend’s Bob Evans Farm Festival at Rio Grande.
Here in this corner of the U.S. we tend to think of ourselves as insulated from the negatives found in urban centers, but awareness in our communities helps keep its people safe from harm. Awareness of the problems our area faces is one step toward resolving them. Being aware, and vigilant, about a bigger-scale issue as we have seen explode in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, London and Paris gives us some knowledge and means of making our world more secure.
No doubt there are some out there who just wish we’d forget about Las Vegas and move on to something else, like competition for the World Series. If you can do that, well, great. But I don’t think we can easily dismiss last weekend’s massacre any more than we can muffle the echoes of past multiple slayings that have, for now, been dwarfed by this new standard for loss of life. If we just allow what happened to slip from our minds, how can we hope to do anything about it? You decide, as Larry King would say.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.