Chardon High School Shooting and How We Live With Horror
I woke up Sunday morning in my college dorm, hung over, and fret with paranoia. There was a horrific moaning outside my window. I lay in bed, paralyzed, my mind piecing itself into one coherent whole. The agonized voice disappeared. Had I made it up? Somewhere nearby, I heard the explosive clacking, clanking, and banging of a construction site. The screaming started again.
I sat up in bed, more alert, and checked my phone. 9 AM. No calls. The strangest thought occurred to me. The construction site noises were gunshots and I had woken up to the beginning of my own school’s shooting—our own dive into lunacy, unimaginable hell.
Standing now, I paced my room, wearing only black boxer briefs, too afraid to let the paranoia go and also too afraid to pursue the possibility of it being grounded in any truth. The screaming stopped and the blinds were drawn on my window.
“Fuck,” I whispered, and looked through one corner of the blind. Outside the lawn was spread before me, characteristically deserted on a Sunday morning, especially during these dark winter months. On the other side of the lawn were the dorms where freshman lived.
There was nothing unusual. The construction clamor had receded, mixing with light traffic, birds—pleasant and obscure sounds rolling playfully through the morning air. “I must be out of my mind,” I said, but then the screaming came again. This time it was mixed with grotesque cackling, something comic with discordant notes of dread.
On the lawn, running frantically, was a boy in black boxer briefs. He was screaming and waving his arms like a paper doll in wind. I watched him in awe as he sprinted, without pause, across the lawn and into the freshman dorms. I stared at the lawn, again vacant. A few minutes later an old man and woman walked by holding hands. Clearly, my school was not under attack. The kid in the black boxer briefs was most likely a drug addled freshman, new to partying, coming down off a bad trip, or experiencing the weird high of another. Whatever his reasons, he was obviously not the first victim of a terrible Sunday gun parade.
On Monday morning, February 27th, seventeen year old TJ Lane—described as a “a quiet kid”—shot five people in the cafeteria of his high school in Chardon, Ohio. As of Tuesday, three of the five students shot were confirmed dead, the other two wounded.
In December, Lane wrote a prose poem on his Facebook page, telling the story of a boy who desires to tear down the “selfish and conceited” ones in the “castle” that he’s excluded from. The hero of the poem believes exclusion and solitude has entitled him to greatness. And now, “he long[s] for only one thing, the world to bow at his feet.” Third person transforms into first and the narrator reveals, “I am Death.” The verse ends simply, “Die, all of you.” Three of Lane’s Facebook friends “liked” the poem. Just as now, in retrospect, this poem rings with uncanny portension, the Chardon School Shooting is reminiscent of many that have happened before.
The term “school shooting” cemented itself in our nation’s vocabulary and consciousness on April 20, 1999 after the Columbine High School massacre, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and wounded 21 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Since then at least 3 people have died yearly due to school shootings. Columbine is the fourth deadliest school shooting in United States history. Even more deadly is the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 25 others on the Virginia Tech campus.
This hellish phenomena—one that refuses to relent—has inspired a permanent, underlying anxiety in every educational institution in America. Strange, the places where young adults ought to feel the most safe—and for the most part do—have a hidden layer of unimaginable horror that shows itself when sparked by certain sensory cues divergent of given norms: A scream, and the peaceful backdrop of a Sunday afternoon is mutated into the stage of absurd and violent spectacle.
At the same time, I am not surprised or shocked when a school shooting actually happens (at least one that happens away from me). As an everyday consumer of news, school shootings have become part of the annual and routine list of scoops. I do not anticipate or expect to hear about them, but when I do, I swallow the gun show like a blunted cold stone, disturbed in a vague and nauseated way, never knowing where to direct and release my outrage.
The frequency at which school shootings occur has established them as something other than a fluke. At the same time, what they are remains somewhat a mystery. They’ve invented their own category named simply, “school shooting,” that we do not fully understand. In fact, in a study of United States school shootings, the U.S. Secret Service “warn[s] against the belief that a certain ‘type’ of student would be a perpetrator.” This may suggest that while the young assassin holds final responsibility for his heinous crimes, there is also something broken in the system, outside the individual, that leads to this near yearly collapse.
The elusive menace within the system may also explain the compulsion toward anxiety a student (like me) has on any given day. The anger we all feel toward the problem at large manifests itself in neurotic symptoms in the everyday routine. We live like mad paranoids not knowing what we’re paranoid of, wondering, what villain stalks the hallways? What horror hides under the stranger’s coat?
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