The video of school board shooter Clay Duke taking hostages in Panama City, Florida on Tuesday was hard to watch. The ex-con was angry, belligerent and determined to destroy lives. But Duke wasn't the only disturbed mind in America this week.
The interwebs were flooded with people searching for the "full video" of the incident, searches that came up empty. The video that people did see -- the video we chose to run here on The Stir -- followed Duke from the moment he stepped up with spray paint to make his giant V for Vendetta symbol through his discussions with school officials and his first gunshot.
Then the images were stilled while the sound carried on. We heard the volley of gunfire that was Duke duking it out with a security guard. We may even have heard the shot that signified Duke's suicide. But we never saw the actual death.
So why were people so hell-bent on seeing the most horrifying moment of all? Is our prurient curiosity a mark of what's wrong with America? Most of us have seen dead people; we've been to funerals. But standing beside a body prepared by a mortician, wounds hidden, ravaging of disease plastered over with makeup is one thing. It's just that -- a body, no longer a human being.
It's harder to separate the human from the body in the moments just after death. Working as a reporter, I've been at accident scenes and seen more than I ever wanted to see. Time, I've been told, hardens you, but after 12 years on the job, I'm still not immune to the wrenching in my stomach when I see a fresh corpse. A cop once sent me pictures of a crime scene, accidentally including the photos of the body, and I nearly threw up.
If it's a weakness, I'm not sure that I would want to be stronger. Just two weeks ago, I sat with my brother in my parents' garage, holding the paw of my childhood dog as he died. The old pup went downhill so quickly that there was no way to take him to the vet to be put to sleep; it would have been worse to move him, and so we sat there. My brother scratched Bingo's ears, while I grasped his paw. The very last moments were, in a word, horrific.
Yes, he was just a dog, but he was my dog. And that horrible pain that went through his eyes in those last moments was something I couldn't control. It was the first active death I'd seen, and it was humbling for me to sit there and realize I had no power here. It's human nature to be cocky about our power over the rest of nature. We are the true king of beasts, but even our egos can't cheat death. It's the one thing that cuts us all off at our knees.
Most Americans did not have the connection to Duke that I had to Bingo. Plenty spent this week saying good riddance to such a bad seed. But seeing someone die is not a celebration. It tears you, the viewer, apart inside. And if it doesn't, you may be just disturbed enough to take a school board hostage with a gun. Did you want to see the full video?
Image via CNN