Parents leave television sets on in the background all the time. They either forget to turn them off, or they leave them on purposely for background noise. Kids don't usually pay attention to anything that isn't a loud, animated cartoon character. Most of the time, the morning news is boring -- an interview with a dopey celebrity, a new bill being debated in Congress, some sports thing -- I can barely pay attention myself.
It was completely by accident that I left the TV on this morning as I ran to dump Cinnamon Toast Crunch into a bowl. I go back to the living room to collect my son and there it was: Breaking news footage of the California gunman who set fire on a group of Carlsbad elementary school children (my son's and daughter's ages).
Pictures of little kids crying. Hysterical parents collapsing to the ground. Images of a white guy described as gunman tackled to the pavement. Shots of children with gunshot wounds being loaded onto a helicopter. My son, 7, and my daughter, 5, completely glued to the scene with a look of horror and bewilderment. They've never seen anything like this -- real or fake.
"Mommy, why would some man want to shoot those kids? Did they do something bad?"
Oops. Oh, gosh. This is a not a discussion for 7:45 in the morning on a Saturday. Or anytime in the next five to seven years. How do you explain lunatics to children? We tell our children that school is safe. Do you even try to explain the certain situations when it might not be? So many questions, but it's the first one that my children initially asked that is by far the most perplexing.
Why did 41-year-old Brendan L. O'Rourke take a loaded .357 magnum and a can of gasoline to a schoolyard in Carlsbad, California, hop the fence during recess, and unleash his bullets on a crowd of children playing. He shot two of them -- a 6 year old and 7 year old -- but luckily they were not seriously injured. That's the first thing I made my kids aware of. Those children will be fine -- physically.
O'Rourke, who tried to flee the scene but was stopped by a bunch of construction workers working nearby, was arrested and charged with six counts of attempted murder. Police suspect he's a transient. And here's my favorite quote from one of the lieutenants on the scene:
"He is not cooperating with the investigation. He probably has some mental health issues."
Probably? Ya think?
Why am I suddenly worried about this conviction. This man is certifiably deranged. I can't think of a more blatantly obvious fact in the entire world. But I am not concerned with this disturbed individual's mental defense.
My concern is for the children in that school yard, especially the ones that were shot and the ones that were standing just a few feet away and saw their playmates drop to the ground. If my kids got upset and confused watching the replay on a television, where things still don't seem quite as real to them as if they saw it in person, I can only imagine the fear and distrust the Carlsbad children must be suffering. If they managed to sleep at all last night, I'm sure they are waking up right about now to eat their Cinnamon Toast Crunch and get ready for soccer practice or shopping with their parents.
Lucky for me, I can turn my television set off, and this time, I will make sure it stays off. But the parents of the California children can't just flick a switch and make it all go away. Those poor children will have to live with those images and their effects for a long, long time.