“A cry was heard in Ramah–weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” Matthew 2:18
It came suddenly and terribly as at 9:30 AM on Friday the 14th of December a 20 year old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut. It was unexpected. The town is considered one of the safest if not the safest cities in the country and in it people, like people across the country were preparing to celebrate Christmas or the last two days of Chanukah. It is a festive time when people, especially children should feel safe, but on this day the people of Newtown and many in the United States discovered the fragility of life and reality of evil walking in the midst of them.
While the investigation is still ongoing it appears that he killed his mother at their home and then went to the school where according to initial reports had at one time either worked or volunteered. New reports indicate that she was not associated with the school. Clad in black and wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying multiple weapons. Lanza used a .223 caliber Bushmaster semi-automatic carbine, the civilian version of the M-4 carbine used by the military, and had two semi-automatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Lanza entered the school, and opened fire in the office. Bt the time he was done he had killed 20 children and 6 adults before killing himself. We know almost nothing about him, his older brother 24 year old Ryan Lanza of Hoboken New Jersey was initially identified as the killer as Adam was carrying his identification. According to some reports Ryan told police that his brother had a history of mental illness. His parents had divorced in 2009 and people that knew the family described Adam as “troubled” and his mother “rigid.” Some reports on Saturday say that Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast who took her sons shooting.
When the news came this morning and the full terrible extent of the massacre became known I was stunned. It was like being kicked in the stomach. Like most people I cannot fathom the absolute evil, or madness that brings a young man to kill people, but even more specifically young children in such a brutal manner. Reports from one of the medical examiners conducting the autopsies indicated that each of the children were shot 5-7 times each. I have seen the results of such violence. I have seen the bodies of children who have been killed or maimed by bullets fired by violent people. I have been with the mothers and fathers of these children, in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs of major medical centers as well as in Iraq. To see the mutilated bodies of the children and the grief of the families in that moment of loss where no words can take away the grief is something that I live with as a Priest and Chaplain.
As the news continued I thought of my brother and sister in law. He is a school administrator and she a elementary school teacher in Stockton California, one of the most dangerous cities in the country. My mother had spent nearly two decades as a teacher’s aide in another elementary school in the same city, while my wife’s first job in college was as an aide with deaf children there. As I thought of them I thought of another school shooting. This one in Stockton in 1989. It occurred on a school playground where a young man named Patrick Edward Purdy took an automatic rifle and killed 5 children and wounded 30 more on the same school playground were I played. My brother and I had both attended that school, Cleveland Elementary School and it was the same school that my wife held her first job. So for me the news brought waves of emotion and concern, as it did for most people. It is a terrible event.
Unfortunately there is little that most of us can do now other than to pray for the victims and if we are in a place to do so be there to care for the families and friends directly affected by this tragedy.
There were pundits, preachers and politicians across the political spectrum today advocating their specific agendas either for or against gun control, as well as throwing God and school prayer into the debate. Somehow it seems to me that those that mourn deserve better than such immediate outbursts of even well meaning partisan vitriol. There is a time for debate and action. However, I wish that people would have the good sense to give the survivors a chance to mourn and everyone a chance to absorb the magnitude of today’s tragedy.
Tonight the people of Newtown and surrounding communities gathered in churches and synagogues to mourn, to pray and to grieve, to seek comfort in God and as individuals and as a community. There will be much more of that to do in the coming days, weeks and months, but for many tonight there will be no comfort, for like the figure of Rachel comfort, at least for now is not possible, for their children are dead.
I think that the scripture quoted by President Obama is the most fitting to end with. It is time to comfort those that mourn and bind up their wounds.