By Kaitlin Marie
Yesterday and today, as our entire nation follows the story of a senseless massacre in Connecticut, people are weighing in with their opinions. We don’t have all of the facts straight yet, but the media and government officials are already pointing fingers at each other, at the NRA, at violent video games, at “not allowing God in our schools”, and at a myriad other reasons. We’re all asking one question — a question for which we will most likely never have a full formed answer: why?
You’re probably wondering why my thoughts on this question have any merit. I’m not a newscaster, a government official, someone linked to the tragedy or an expert on violence. Why should I have any say in the matter?
The only reason I can give you is that my high school suffered a violent attack — but one with incredibly different consequences. The difference between what I experienced and what happened yesterday raises important points in the ongoing discussion of what went wrong.
In 2004, when I was just 16 — a junior in high school – a young man smuggled a machete and a hacksaw into my school and attacked his unsuspecting Spanish class as they watched a movie. Our school was instantly put on lockdown, and while I, personally, was physically distant from the violence that took place, I remember quite clearly the panic and fear we all experienced when the principal hastily announced a “Code Red” and that “students and teachers were not to leave their classrooms under any circumstances.”
The attacker in question was 15-year-old James Lewerke, a freshman, and he was experiencing the onset of paranoid schitzophrenia at the time of the attack. He seriously injured 7 students that day.
But the cruel miracle is that not a single victim died that day.
I do not want to downplay the fact that people’s lives were changed forever. Everyone present that day will carry a piece of the trauma for the rest of their lives. Of the victims of the attack, several required reconstructive surgery. I distinctly remember one girl with a deep scar across her cheek — a daily reminder of that awful Spanish class.
But in my opinion, what I don’t remember far outweighs what I do recall about that day. I don’t remember the names of those injured because they didn’t die. They’re not just memories engraved on a memorial plaque. They’re out in the world living their lives.
Which brings me to the true point I’m trying to make: students in my high school were attacked with a machete and a saw, and not a single person died. I can’t reiterate that fact enough. Who knows what kind of carnage would have been wreaked if the attacker had brought a gun that day rather than a blade?
I believe that, in the wake of this life-shattering event, our country needs to reflect on a lot of important issues. Like gun control. Like how we identify, diagnose and treat mental illness.
Sometimes you can’t stop the violent outbursts of a person intent on hurting others, but if you can control what tools they use to inflict the damage, you can change the outcome entirely. Could someone have been killed in my high school that day? Yes, absolutely. But not 26 people.
It has been eight years since the attack on Valparaiso High School, and all the students who were there have since graduated and moved on with their lives. The students there today know very little about the actual event, and the “Valparaiso Slashing” has taken on an urban legend-like status. The “Valparaiso Slashing“, mind you. Not the ” Valparaiso Massacre.”
Even the attacker, James Lewerke, who is 23 now, was released on parole last year. His life is forever changed, but his mental illness is now treated. Even he gets a second chance.
There’s no way to change what happened in Connecticut yesterday. Our “shoulda coulda wouldas” are pointless to the people who lost friends and loved ones, the people who probably have wrapped presents under their Christmas trees that will never be opened. What our country needs now is to think long and hard about how we can prevent these things in the future. Instead of skirting the issues or worrying about isolating potential voters, we need to meet these issues head on.
GUN CONTROL. Let’s talk about it.
MENTAL ILLNESS TREATMENT, EVEN FOR THE UNINSURED. Let’s discuss this.
THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS AS A KIND OF PERSONAL FAILURE OR WEAKNESS AND NOT A TRUE SICKNESS THAT REQUIRES DEFINITIVE TREATMENT. We need to talk about this.
This is not the time to lose faith in humanity. This is the time to rally together, to make lasting changes. And this is the time to hug your loved ones and tell them you love them. This is the time to offer your thoughts, prayers, comfort, and support to those people dealing with unimagineable loss.
Mom, Dad, Erin, Javi, my grandmas, cousins, aunts, uncles — I love you. I’m so lucky to have you.
Now let’s try to make sure this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.