Sun, Jul

Please Hurry, There's A Lot of Dead Bodies: This Is Not Normal


SAY WHAT? - Another one. America First, alone in the world, now has over a mass shooting a day, going on so long kids have survived more than one. Like many, we're somewhat out of words. A modest proposal: Lock every GOP lawmaker in a room and make them watch/hear the ceaseless, weeping, screaming shards of our carnage: "It was just shot after shot after shot...I saw blood everywhere...Oh my God oh my God...It kept coming and coming...Please, I'm going to die." And behind it, gunfire.

The awful numbers blur. The violence at Michigan State University - three dead, five critically wounded - is the 67th mass shooting this year, marking more  mass shootings than days in 2023. Today in America, "The number one killer of children is guns." The violence at MCU came a day before the fifth  anniversary of 2018's massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, FLA. - 14 students and 3 adults dead, 17 wounded. Since then, 103 people have been killed and 281 injured in school shootings; if you include deaths from any kind of shooting, the number soars to over 1,149 children and teenagers. In 2022, there were more than 600 mass shootings and 51 school shootings, over double 2018 and 2019, setting a record of 100 people shot on school campuses and 40 killed. The only year since Parkland that saw no school shootings was 2020, when schools were closed during pandemic lockdowns. 

The MSU rampage began with an alert sent Monday at 8:31 p.m. telling students to “run, hide, fight” or shelter in place after reports of shots. The 43-year-old shooter, Anthony McRae, was found Tuesday dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The story that emerged was sickeningly familiar: A "hell-raiser" who practiced target shooting out his back door, had a history of gun-related run-ins with the law, took a plea and got dubious probation, was still  able to legally buy more guns thanks to a GOP-led state legislature that last year blocked Democratic efforts to pass even paltry gun-safety measures - expanding background checks, banning large-capacity magazines, mandating safe storage, enacting a "red flag" law to keep sociopaths from killing children. But they did want to ban the teaching of U.S. racism and make parents and health professionals face potential life in prison for providing gender-affirming care to children, so there's that.

In November, Democrats took back both chambers for the first time in 40 years; since then, they've vowed to act on gun control. After MSU, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer noted, "Too many of us scan rooms for exits when we enter" and angrily insisted, "We can't keep living like this." An equally furious Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who saw constituents through another shooting in Oxford last year, declared, "I cannot believe I am here doing this again 15 months later. I am filled with rage we have to (again) talk about our children being killed in their schools." Citing kids now living through their second school shooting, she added, "If this is not a wake-up call to do something, I don't know what is." House Majority Whip Ranjeev Puri echoed them, pointedly, wearily dismissing "empty solutions" like bulletproof backpacks in the face of ongoing carnage. "Today we begin to collectively heal...tomorrow we work," he wrote. "Fuck your thoughts and prayers."

Meanwhile, the trauma of all the killings, for all the families and survivors, abides. So does rage at the obscene inaction since Sandy Hook over 20 years ago - 26 dead - which in retrospect marked for many the end of meaningful gun-control debate in this country. A defining tweet: "Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over." Today, 95% of schools conduct drills for a shooting or employ other means - metal detectors, armed guards, locked doors - to little effect. The surreal presence of survivors of other shootings at MSU - a kid wearing an "Oxford Strong" sweatshirt from those killings, another Oxford survivor describing "sitting under my desk at MSU once again texting everyone, 'I love you,'" a Sandy Hook survivor at MSU who said on Tik Tok, "I am 21 years old and this is the second mass shooting that I have now lived through" - offers grim proof if we needed it that, "We have failed an entire generation."

More searing proof came just months ago at the much-delayed trial and sentencing of Parkland killer Nikolas Cruz, who in six minutes fired a semi-automatic rifle 139 times to kill 17 and wound 17 - going back "without breaking stride" to be sure some were dead - after which he slipped out of the school with other fleeing students, bought an Icee at Subway, and walked into a McDonald's to ask for a ride from a still-dazed student whose sister, unbeknownst to him, Cruz had just shot. Cruz was arrested a short time later (white/alive) walking home. The rare jury trial featured wrenching testimony from survivors, harrowing video and audio from the scene, prosecutors' grisly specifics of when and how each victim was shot, and a courtroom filled with flinching, often-weeping parents bearing pained witness to the gruesome details of their children's deaths - though a video of piercingly loud gunshots and screams prompted one anguished parent to yell, "Shut it off!" 

A girl described going to the bathroom, hearing the noise, running into the hallway: "That's when the firing started." A girl heard shots, thought it was Valentine's balloons popping, realized, "This is not normal," was shot in the legs, saw the two girls next to her killed: "They were both instantly gone." A teacher described frantic kids trying to find cover when "the barrel of that AR-15 came right through the glass panel in the door and was shooting everywhere, very loud, very frightening." A teacher heard "shot after shot after shot, it just never stopped"; she heard one of her students out in the hall, badly wounded, screaming for help; she yelled for her neighboring teacher to close his door, but he was already dead. A girl knew she'd been shot, looked behind her for help, "but all I saw was blood on the floor." The "sounds just kept coming and coming, it wouldn't stop...I remember seeing a lot of bodies...We were sitting ducks...The shots echoed from the hallway."

For the first time in our grievous, unspeakable mass shooting history, there's choppy, on-scene, cell-phone video: Panicked students crouched, screaming, whispering "This can't be real" as shots ring out and a boy wails, "Oh my god oh my god." There's audio of kids crying, moaning, gunshots like explosions. There's eerily silent surveillance camera footage as armed police stream in and terrified kids rush out. Most horrifically, there's stolid, graphic testimony of autopsy results: A large wound, seared edges...Shot in the right side of the head, goes through the scalp, fractures the skull...Shot in the left side of the face, forehead, left side of chest, right side of chest....Parents sit, sob, shake their heads in disbelief. They tell their stories, again. As in the documentary "After Parkland," they ask, through their loss, "How do you make sense of the senseless?" Also, "How much death can America withstand?" But still, the madness goes on.

Last week, Missouri's GOP-led House voted 104-39 against banning minors from openly carrying weapons in public with adult supervision, even though St. Louis police fighting rising gun violence had asked them to support the bill to stop "14-year-olds walking down the (street) carrying AR-15s.” Having already repealed most conceal carry requirements, GOP lawmakers in a state of 39 school shootings and 73 mass shootings since 1970, and which now has a progressive black female D.A. they view as "weak on crime," argued the bill would infringe on gun rights because "while it may be intuitive that a 14-year-old has no legitimate purpose (to wield an AR-15), it doesn’t actually mean they’re going to harm someone. We don’t know that yet." Like a drunk driver or bomb-bearing psychopath may or may not plan to harm someone, right? "Missouri Reps Affirm Toddlers' Rights To Carry Firearms," read one headline. What could possibly go wrong? 

Along with MSU's shootings, Monday also saw the release of a report exposing "the sheer depth of the failures" in the Uvalde shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers as nearly 400 armed police stood by for 77 minutes, doing nothing - just like the GOP in a state that leads the U.S. in gun sales and mass shootings (8 in 13 years) but still ensures an 18-year-old can buy an AR-15, or in this case, two. New evidence ranges from the gruesome - a police chief asking, "So how many are still alive?" - to the heartrending: The series of 911 calls spanning 46 minutes made by 10-year-old Khloie Torres, whispering so the gunman couldn't hear, begging for help. "Please hurry, there's a lot of dead bodies," she told the dispatcher in a hushed voice. "Please, I'm going to die." When video from Uvalde was first released, officials added a disclaimer: "The sound of children screaming has been removed." Time to put back the screams, the shots, the blood, the grief for all to see, hear, feel. 

Video shows students hiding as shots are fired www.youtube.com

(Abby Zimet has written CommonDream's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: [email protected])