Explaining Mass Shootings and Tragedies

Over 29 people were killed this weekend in Texas and Ohio. The barbaric actions have the nation grieving once again. These all too common actions of sickness have people asking questions. The answers to those questions will not bring back those that were lost. However, I believe that it is a natural question for coping with a horrible situation. 

If no answer can soothe the hearts of those affected, what possible answers can we dads give to our children that may ask the same? How can we give them clarity and understanding? These actions confuse and go against the values that we teach our kids about human life. They are looking to us for answers. We are supposed to have answers and be right.

My first experience with this happened on 9/11. It was a Tuesday. I can remember, why, but I was off work that day and had just fed my daughter. I was playing with her on the couch and the phone wrang. It was my dad. “Are you watching t.v.?”, he asked. “No”, I replied. “Turn on the news…quick”. At that particular moment, both of the World Trade Towers were in flames. Shortly thereafter the first one fell…followed by the second. 

My daughter was a baby and unaware of the events. My oldest boy was at school. Somehow they heard the news or saw it. We only lived a few blocks from the school. Around 3ish pm, He ran through our front door. “Dad…what happened? Why? How many people were killed? Who did it?”, he asked. Every bit of his attention was on me. He had heard a bunch of stuff at school, but his dad would have the truth. His father would know the correct information and could tell him why.

All I could tell him was what a terrorist was and some possible reasons that they chose to attack the USA. The conversation lasted until dinner time. He had so many questions. Most of the were prefaced with “why”. All I could do is to tell him as a Christian, that the heart of man is deceitful and sick. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) I told him that there are those with no regard for anything other than their “cause”. Taking another person’s life is the ultimate act of selfishness, and under no immediate threat is despicable.

Two years prior to this, the Columbine shooting happened. Now it was 9/11. I told him that in both cases it was a tragedy that few people could understand. Many years after the Columbine tragedy. The mother of one of the shooters Sue Klebold came out to address the public in a TALK . Click on the word Talk on the left to see her speech. She had no answers for the victims. This was her son. How could she not know? As I watched her speak, I truly began to hurt for her.

Approximately 20 years and many mass shootings later, we are a nation of the same questions repeated in desperation. Now, young parents have to make sense of these tragedies for their kids. Dad’s, they are looking to you. What are you going to say? Even if you were not part of the families and community affected by such violence, kids will want to know why? They will have questions. 

Teenagers are a bit different. They may get caught up in the moment briefly and have an opinion. Unfortunately, such news has become commonplace that most reactions are not an uproar unless it happens to them or someone they care about. Most young people don’t think such things will happen in their town, neighborhood, or school. 

As an educator, I have had 2 students come through that faced murder charges after leaving our school. One, in particular, I worked with daily. I was his religion teacher at this private school. Believe me, when I heard what this young man was accused of some years later, I began to question myself. He was a tough kid with a rough background…no dad. However, very kind and cordial in my class. As a matter of fact, he aced his final in my class…a test that most common churchgoers would probably fail. Did I miss something? Did I fail to see something? Did we the school fail him? 

My kids shared classrooms with at least one of these boys. My oldest, the one with the 9/11 questions, is in the Navy. He had to call me one time to let me know that there was a shooter on base…but that he was okay. These tragedies affect everyone. They raise the same questions and speculations. Be transparent with your kids. It is okay to say I don’t know or to quote your conviction. Ask them what they think about it and what do they think are solutions. Keep the lines of communication open. Events like these are not likely to go away. We live in a hurting and broken world. Give your kids the time. Give them your ear. Give them a voice to express themselves. Be the best dad possible.