Snow in Blacksburg

It was a scene we’ve witnessed before, from the safety of our living rooms and offices: a school building that has become a slaughterhouse, and scores of police officers arrayed outside, waiting for . . . something, for orders perhaps, or for the specially trained tactical units, or perhaps just for the shooting to stop, because while they wear badges they also have wives and mortgages and children of their own. Whatever their reasons, they hesitated, even the cluster of officers captured on a student’s videocamera, the ones who made a half-hearted attempt to enter the building, waited while one shot, then another, then a string of shots rang out, and between them the screaming from inside the classrooms.

I’ve never been shot at, and so I don’t know the fear. But I’ve never put on a badge and sworn an oath to protect the defenseless, either. I only know that had my children been inside, I would want the men and women with guns and badges to come through the doors, or windows if they have to, and cut down the man with the gun.

I remember a murder in my hometown, a man who walked out onto his front lawn with a rifle, and started shooting his neighbors and passersby. A girl from my school was hit, and she lay in a ditch in front of her house, bleeding and crying. The man went back into his house when the police arrived, and so they encamped behind their cruisers for hours. That girl lay there, bleeding and crying out, and eventually she died.

The men with badges that day were rightly denounced as cowards. Only the people who were in Blacksburg yesterday, or at Columbine nearly eight years ago to the day, can accurately judge the actions and inactions of the men and women wearing badges. The rest of us can only know that sometimes men and boys pick up guns, and they start butchering people, and there is no one on this earth who can protect us once the killing starts. This is why each of us who is a parent hugged his children more fiercely yesterday, after we heard. You either have hope in the world to come, or you have no hope at all, but either way you hold your children close and pray that the wolves attack somewhere else.

Now the counselors and journalists and talk show hosts will descend on Blacksburg, bringing with them a secondary wave of psychological damage disguised as “healing” and “talking things out,” but which will really be about serving our need to see it, to witness it in safety, perhaps because we are thankful, in an ugly, selfish way most of us have, that it happened to them and not to us, or to our children.

Today there are parents waking up and remembering that their child is dead. There are children waking up and remembering that their parent is dead. Sleep always offers some hope that the world will be different when we awake, but it isn’t, is it? I wonder if this is the hopelessness that drove that boy to become a monster. I wonder if his parents will ever smile again.

Judy Miller, a reporter who covered the Columbine killings, had a graceful essay on NPR this morning. In it she mentioned the strangeness of seeing snowflakes swirl about the campus as the killing took place, and how it was similarly snowing in Columbine the day two other boys became monsters. It made me wonder if God was crying, and if the coldness of the world we have made has frozen even his tears.


  1. Lucy

    Tony said “and there is no one on this earth who can protect us once the killing starts.”

    I hesitate to contradict you, and this is NOT a “blame-the-victim” comment. But in situations like these, I think there can be protection in our own actions, for both ourselves and the others around us. You barracade the door, you jump out the window, you tend to the wounded, you kill the killer, you change the situation. If you have the skill-set.

    There in lies part of the problem. Too many of us (and our children) lack the mental and physical skill-sets to survive that situation. This is a horrible event. But we should learn from it. THIS is a chance to think and prepare for the next horrible event.

  2. areopagitica

    About the shooting.

    The lede in the WaPo pretty much summed up why I gave up on television so long ago:

    On the night after the deadliest shooting spree in American history, the nation’s most popular TV networks weren’t covering the grim news during their prime-time h…

  3. wickld

    I wonder why we all need someone to blame? Why did they not shut down the campus sooner? Why do we allow kids to play video games? Why werent the cops more active?

    I think sometimes bad things happen and there is no one earthly to blame.

  4. kipp

    I wonder if God cries,
    When we do the things we do.

    Do love drops fill His eyes?
    Cause He loves us oh so true?

    I oft’ wish to see Him
    For the world apologize.

    For even though He’s God,
    I wonder if God cries.

    Gary S. Paxton
    “and don’t forget the S, that’s one third of my whole name”

  5. Danielle

    I very much like the last line of this post. However I must disagree with you on your thoughts regarding the police officers and what they did and did not do. I agree with one of your above posters who said that sometimes bad things happen and there is no one to blame.

  6. David Andersen

    There is *always* someone to blame when it comes to human action otherwise there would be no accountability for acts and lack of acts.

    The grief and the hurt is no reason to brush accountability aside and fail to understand where things broke down and who made mistakes – especially when mistakes cost others their lives and especially when people had a responsibility to prevent the loss of life.

  7. Deoxy

    A beautiful post, as usual, and thank you.

    I do unfortunately have to echo Lucy; it’s a pleasant sound bite, “there is no one on this earth who can protect us once the killing starts.’ It has some bits of truth to it (it’s very rare for the FIRST victim to really have any chance at all), but it’s untrue on the whole.

    Though perhaps you meant, “There is no one ELSE on earth who can protect us,” meaning that we hav to do it ourselves, and this is not entirely true, either, as sometimes someone else protects you (such as the heroic Israeli Holocaust survivor who took the bullets for his students), but those people may or may not be present is something terrible is happening to you. By definition, you will ALWAYS be present when something like this is happening to you.

    I also echo David Andersen – we need not glaringly point the finger or scream about so-and-so’s evil from the rooftops, but the primary blame for this certainly exists, and on whom it falls is also clear. Secondary and teriary blame is harder and sometimes less necessary to assign, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, either, and it is sometimes at least is important (in terms of prevention, especially).

    As Christians, we have at times a difficult relationship with blame, as we should know well our own, that it is forgiven, and that we should forgive others, but without blame there is no NEED or indeed POSSIBILITY for forgiveness. We are commanded to forgive; we must determine WHO before we can do properly do so. Blanket statements of forgiveness for anyone involved are almost without exception trite and meaningless. True forgiveness is exceedingly difficult, because (among other reasons) one must first acknowledge WHAT one is forgiving; we often try to skip “forgive” and move straight to “forget”.

    I’ve just reread what I am about to post, and my own words shame me; I do not live up to them at all.

  8. chronicler

    In a way we are all to blame. We have a nation, with a God inspired constitution, and have allowed the PC of the nation to whither away our moral values.

    Last weekend, there were 11 young people killed on the streets of Philadelphia due to gun violence. If we add up all those types of deaths each weekend in this nation they probably add up to more than were killed in Blacksburg.

    We watch violence for entertainment. We willingly attend r rated movies filled with violence. We allow our children to entertain themselves with violent games.

    Much of it could be tempered with a few sessions in Sunday school each week. A few prayers said as a family around a table. A few short hours being together as a family. A few lessons at home about loving our neighbors.

    What made me sad to read regarding this tragedy was a comment by a young girl talking about the shooter, “He had a funny accent when he read, we would snicker at him”. How many snickers add up to an angry lost individual? I know I am guilty of the things I say. Today, I have chosen to change. I will try to share the good news a little better from now on.

    I am not condoning his actions by any means. But how many of us could turn the tide in one persons life if we would just reach out and try to touch someone? To let them know of their divine worth? I would much rather err on the side of God and try than to completely ignore the empty stare of a stranger.

  9. Tammy

    Gary S. Paxton had a comment using a song that I heard as a child. I am now 41 and a soloist. I have been searching for the words to this song for years! Nowhere on the internet will you find them. This song was sang at a Sammy Hall concert that I went to and that night I asked God into my heart. Please, Gary, if you read this…..send me the words!!

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