When it Almost Hits Home


Yesterday, a man named Terrell Blake killed a family member before leading police on a high-speed chase and exchanging gunfire with officers, shooting two others, and then ultimately succumbing to gunfire himself.

All told, the shootout and chase left two dead and two wounded.

You’d be forgiven for missing the headlines about it. But yesterday in my hometown Rochester, NY, this was front page news. It also made it to the USA Today and US News & World Report.

“Police kill man they say targeted family members across Rochester, NY”

To be fair, shootings are fairly common there, and in other major American cities. As such, this one shouldn’t have hit closer than home than usual.

But it did, because this man, who was targeting and succeeding in shooting his own family members, has a son at Rochester School #45.

A few months ago, that school was anonymous to me. And then, in late spring, my family and I celebrated my sister, Sarah, who after obtaining her Master’s in Education and Literacy, was hired as an elementary school teacher. After exploring some concerns about safety, but relishing an opportunity to do what she studied and loves, she accepted a job at Rochester School #45.

A text message from my sister, Sarah, later that day

At 9:41 a.m., he shot and killed his ex-wife, and critically injured her new boyfriend. His son was next, collapsing under gunfire in the yard of School #25. Ultimately, after a shootout that traversed the city, things ended near Nathaniel Hawthorne School (#3 on the screenshot).

The second star is where he was alleged to have been heading next; School #45, to shoot and kill his other son. (This is a text message from my sister later in the day).

 

For a brief moment in time, I felt what countless parents, siblings and loved ones have felt in our country. A pang in my chest, a pit in my stomach. Selfishly, I felt grateful to learn of this news only after the suspect had been killed, my sister’s safety assured.

And yet, I was too close. I was haunted by the idea that she was minutes away from something more harrowing than a ‘what if?’ My sister too, was perhaps fortunate to not know this man’s son was in her school when they were in the midst of a lockdown. What would her mindset been?

But she was forced to secure her classroom. She knew that there was a gunman on the loose in her neighborhood, and frankly, at that level of proximity, no one is keeping score. The real threat of violence, not only for her, but in a classroom filled with 6 year olds, is a disgusting line to write.

I’ve developed a cavalier attitude about mass shootings in recent years. I’m not proud to say it, but then again, I have committed as much effort to enacting change as our politicians have.

And yet, I am once again confronted with the same ethical dilemmas that we all battle on days like this, and frankly, on days much worse than this. Did he have mental illness? His family members allege that he did. And yet, who has the heart to help a man like that, a 39 year old who was long past the age when even the most sympathetic would say he was capable of being healed.

We can pay pithy lip service of demands for mental health care reform, but no one wants to be first; no one wants to foot the bill. If those closest to him don’t give a shit, why would a politician or a neighborhood organization?

And similarly, for all the gun legislation that could’ve – or should’ve – been in place, would it have mattered? I understand where the Right is coming from. I sense that he’d have found a way to pull this off either way, whether yesterday or another day.

We can legislate responsibly and make incremental improvements; we should. Access to mental health care should be expanded and access to firearms should be restricted, to the highest extent possible that we can assure responsible ownership.

But those things alone won’t solve this. They’ll help. But those are symptoms; they are not the disease. I don’t know what the disease is, to be fair, but I know that people who feel loved aren’t the ones shooting up schools, or mowing down family members on mid-day high speed chases.

 

My sister went home last night, safe, in one piece. And she knows with total certainty, after countless phone calls and text messages, that we are all keenly aware of just how different yesterday could’ve been; that our worlds would’ve been turned upside down had it been different.

Yet, numerous children from that school and others, and adults from various walks of life, didn’t go home to the same situation. They were cast aside. Left to prepare a meal alone, again, or otherwise ignored in a house full of distracted cohabitants, again.

Love and proclamations of its healing power, or restorative power, are overplayed. And yet, on days like this, it does nothing to diminish the truth of it all. Love can’t cure all disease, but for where medicine falls short, love invariably succeeds.

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