America’s Latest Mass Shooting was Local—and I Refuse to Stay Numb

My heart breaks at the news out of Las Vegas. I am sharing the post I wrote about the aftermath of Orlando and a shooting at a dance club in my home of Fort Myers. The words I wrote then remain true today: I refuse to remain silent. I refuse to stay numb. And I am tired of this madness.

Just Follow the Joy

This morning I found myself standing in a strip mall less than a mile away from where I used to live, a dozen roses in my hand and more than two dozen reporters in my face.

I was standing on the site of the latest mass shooting in America.

A reporter asked me was why I was there.

I’d thought about this as I purchased a bouquet of small yellow roses at my local Winn-Dixie this morning. (What types of flowers are suitable to leave at memorials for mass shootings? I wondered. This is now a question we have to ask ourselves in America.)

I thought about gun violence as I made the twenty-three minute drive north from my home, driving past my church that only five short weeks ago hosted a vigil for the Orlando mass shooting victims. I thought about it as I exited the…

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America’s Latest Mass Shooting was Local—and I Refuse to Stay Numb

This morning I found myself standing in a strip mall less than a mile away from where I used to live, a dozen roses in my hand and more than two dozen reporters in my face.

I was standing at the site of America’s latest mass shooting.

A reporter asked me was why I was there.

I’d thought about this as I purchased a bouquet of small yellow roses at my local Winn-Dixie this morning. (What types of flowers are suitable to leave at memorials for mass shootings? I wondered. This is now a question we have to ask ourselves in America.)

I’d thought about gun violence as I made the twenty-three minute drive north from my home, driving past my church that only five short weeks ago had hosted a vigil for the Orlando mass shooting victims. I’d thought about gun violence as I exited the highway, one sign pointing toward Fort Myers (this way to the latest mass shooting site) and another pointing toward Lehigh Acres/FL-844 (this way to the home of the fourteen year old basketball star killed in aforementioned mass shooting.)

I’d thought about gun violence as I turned onto Winkler Avenue–now only two miles from the mass shooting site–and drove past the apartment complex that my husband, daughter and I lived in when first relocating to Fort Myers. The home where I nursed my baby to asleep located at the same intersection where a teen girl would be killed a few months after we moved out. (So many memorials to gun violence now within this mile radius.)

The reporters asked me today, why are you here at the site of the mass shooting.

If any of my interviews make the evening news you might hear me say that I was there to offer my condolences and to join my pastor in prayer (whom I’d just missed seeing at the scene). Or you might hear a clip that makes me sound angry and political (both of which are true), as I declared loudly, “When will this madness end?” Perhaps a reporter will focus on the fact that I am a mother who used to live less than a mile away and that I pray for my child and all these children. Or you might hear the reporter ask me about my small yellow sign said (it says LOVE WINS) as I explained how we can’t let fear and anger rule our hearts, and that we must show up for our children and fight for change.

All of those answers are true. But the truth is that I came to the site of this latest mass shooting because when twelve year old children at a dance party — with armed guards present, nonetheless — are killed and injured, we should all show up to grieve and mourn and rage, because there is no such thing as “Other People’s Children.” 

Even if this latest killing rampage was due to gang violence and not terrorism — as though that somehow lets us off the hook, or should somehow reassure us that this could never happen to our children (but what of the children who do live among this violence?) — this does not matter.

The reporters asked why I was there:

Because I refuse to stay numb.

Because I believe broken hearts are a good thing. (Five short weeks ago I attended a vigil for Orlando victims and it broke my heart. I do not want a heart that is no longer shocked by the horror of a mass shooting.)

Because I refuse to remain silent.

Because I am tired of this madness.

Because even though I know that gun violence is not solved with vigils and flowers, the process just might begin with open, broken hearts that refuse to accept violence as ordinary reality in America.


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In Memory Of: Ramon.

On the table was one paper with one name: Ramon. 

We had already clutched the tiny candles in foil holders. We’d sung We Shall Overcome and We are A Gentle Angry People. We had prayed with a rabbi, imam and pastor. We’d listened to name after name, so many young men, some women, but mostly men, spoken aloud into the sacred silence. Most of the vigil attendees had already filed into the garden, planting 49 rainbow flags into the earth.

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I was in the back of the church, empty now, standing near a table with white candles, yellow ribbons and tiny rainbow flags. There was a stack of papers that stated “In memory of:” for mourners to share the name of a loved one lost in Orlando. Most copies were left blank, except for one. The name Ramon scrawled upon it in blue ink.

I did not realize until I saw his name how numb I had become to this violence. To hearing about another deranged killer who killed four in a workplace, killed two in a university, killed thirteen on an army base. Killed. Killed. Killed. Over a thousand killed since Sandy Hook, nearly 4,000 injured. Sandy Hook somehow marked the turning point. We let those babies die, gunned down in a school (a school, God help us), but life strangely proceeded as normal. Deep in our being we knew that Sandy Hook mattered because we used it to frame the rest. Since Sandy Hook. Before Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook mattered, somehow, but we let our President plead and shed tears alone before a podium. We did nothing. I did nothing.

I read Ramon’s name and, eyes welled with tears, filed out of the church with my my husband and daughter toward the memorial garden. People stood around in small groups. My daughter, three, twirled a tiny rainbow flag. I hung back behind the crowds but overheard a young man thank our pastor. “I lost two friends in Orlando,” he stated simply.

I have the privilege of being on the periphery of this tragedy, both geographically (I live three hours from Orlando) and emotionally. I read Ramon’s name but did not know him. I overheard a young man, a member of my community, state that he lost two friends, but I did not lose any loved ones. I can sit and write about this because I am not gripped by grief and trauma like so many families who must cope with devastating loss, trying to process a loved one’s violent death. I am compelled to write because for too long my heart was surrounded by a wall that said, we are helpless. This is hopeless. Our country will never change. We are too divided. 

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Love wins. Image source.

Last week I listened to a Here and Now interview with an Orlando gun shop owner. I bristled near the beginning of the segment as the man tried to claim that guns have as much to do with terrorism as planes do, but I suppressed the urge to turn off the program. I was surprised to find out that I actually see eye-to-eye somewhat with the man who makes a living selling guns. He questioned how someone on an FBI watch list can have access to a gun. He said as a gun shop owner he wants increased access to information about whether someone purchasing a gun is mentally ill and violent.

I don’t know where we go from here. What I didn’t know until I attended the vigil was that it was important for me to read Ramon’s name. To cry publicly. To feel righteous anger. To call my Republican Senator (every day for five days) even if I didn’t think he would support reasonable gun control measures. (He didn’t.) To listen to people I don’t always agree with. To transform the righteous anger to real change so that someday we may say, since Orlandothings have changed.