Unspeakable Horror (and Sloppy News Mistakes)

Monday, December 31, 2012
[NOTE: although I began this posting in the week after the shooting, it has taken me a while to compose due to a variety of reasons, which include the year-end holiday season and finding out that I have a personal connection with this horrific tragedy.  You will see a 'break' below between my first attempt and the concluding information.]

The front page of the December 15th edition of the New York Daily News says it all (graphic courtesy of the Newseum)

This past weekend was supposed to be when I would "regroup" and start up my postings here but that all changed with the news last Friday of a school shooting in Connecticut.  Although Americans have grown used to hearing such information with growing frequency in recent years, this one was different due to the setting and the method in which the gunman committed his heinous deed.  When Adam Lanza put a semi-automatic pistol to his own head and pulled the trigger as first responders arrived on the scene, he had already taken the lives of 27 other people (his mother back at their shared residence and 26 at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School).  Of the school fatalities, 20 were first grade students between the ages of 6 and 7 and all of them were shot multiple times with a semi-automatic assault rifle (one child, Noah Posner, was struck 11 times).  The other six were all women who worked at the school, to include the principal, the school psychiatrist, and four teachers and aides in the targeted classrooms.

Jillian Soto responds to news about her sister, teacher Victoria Soto, who was slain along with 27 others on Friday morning (photo by Jessica Hill and courtesy of the Associated Press)

No motives have been established by investigators to explain this violent outbreak but early reporting identified Lanza as being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  A pervasive development disorder on the autism scale, it normally affects the person's ability to socially interact with others and is outwardly manifested by an intense focus or interest in very specific subjects.  His first victim, his mother Nancy, was a gun enthusiast who took both of her sons (to include Adam, 24, currently residing in Hoboken, New Jersey) out for target practice at local firing ranges.  In addition to the Glock and Bushmaster firearms, he also brought a Sig Sauer handgun into the building and left a shotgun in the trunk of his mother's car that he drove the five miles from their house to the school.  According to police reporting, he had several high-capacity magazines for the rifle on him, capable of storing up to 30 rounds each, so the death toll could have been a lot higher if the authorities had not responded as quickly as they did. 

The front page of the Danbury News-Times on December 16th (graphic courtesy of the Newseum)

I did not hear about the shooting until shortly after noon on Friday.  I was returning to my office after picking up lunch at a local fast food outlet and noticed that Fox News programming was preempting Rush Limbaugh's show on his local radio outlet.  I had seen something on Google News before I left but I did not click on any of the links to investigate further.  I sat in my car as the television simulcast provided the raw details of the events in Newtown and I was visibly shaken to my coworkers when I entered the building.  We do not have any television sets in our office but I was able to find online streaming sites for both MSNBC and CNN to play on my computer workstation.

Screen captures from MSNBC's and CNN's live coverage of the shooting event on Friday afternoon

For several hours, the information coming from those two outlets was extremely confusing.  Initial reporting had the shooter as the older brother, not the 20-year old Adam, and identified the slain mother as an employee or volunteer at the targeted school.  It turned out that the younger Lanza had a form of Ryan's identification on him when police examined his remains.  Due to this confusion, the older brother was taken into custody in New Jersey for questioning on this event but he was later released without any charges being filed.  While Nancy Lanza's connection with the school was initially described as a teacher, school district officials quickly refuted those claims and were unsure about any relationship she may have had with Sandy Hook Elementary (it is believed that Adam did attend that school in his past).


It is now over two weeks since the shootings happened and we still don't have any solid insight into why he took his actions.  FBI computer forensic experts are trying to examine the hard drives of systems inside the Lanza home for clues but that task will prove difficult since Adam had attempted to destroy them prior to conducting his school rampage.  A report out late last week said that the Connecticut medical examiner wants to examine his DNA to look for "mutations or other abnormalities" that might provide clues into why he committed his crimes, although it is hard to see how that information alone (without actual brain testing) would point investigators in a possible direction.

People Magazine changed their scheduled "Best and Worst of 2012" cover to one that featured the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting

After two "week-iversary" observances of the event over the past two Fridays, the coverage of Newtown on cable news outlets was superseded by the looming "fiscal cliff" discussions and other end-of-year retrospectives to fill vital television programming time.  I was in news "overload" for that initial weekend and returning to work the following Monday helped me to regain my perspective on other important things happening in the country and around the world.  It wasn't until the Wednesday after the shootings that I discovered that there was a Dayton connection to this story and one that personally touched me.  One of the students killed that day was the granddaughter of a former coworker of mine (another granddaughter, also attending that same school, escaped unharmed).  He and his wife drove to Connecticut the night of her death to console their daughter and son-in-law and to help them prepare for the funeral the following Thursday.  I cannot fathom the grief their family (as well as the families of the other student victims) must have endured to lay such young boys and girls to their eternal rests and my condolences go out to them as well as the six school officials who also lost their lives that day.

Advocates for stricter gun-control laws protest outside the Washington DC office of the National Rifle Association last week (photo by Jim Lo Scalzo and courtesy of The Guardian)

As every firearms-related tragedy seems to do these days, both sides in our country's on-going debate on guns and the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.  On my personal Facebook page, I have seen plenty of postings advocating both sides of that debate about whether our Founding Fathers intended for individuals to have devices that would have been categorized as a "weapon of mass destruction" in their time (just imagine what today's assault rifle with a 30-to-100 round magazine or "clip" would do against flintlock pistols and muskets of the late 18th century).  This discussion has also been featured on a variety of cable news and Sunday "talking head" shows to include one where the host appears to have broken the law to make his point.

Meet the Press host David Gregory holds up a high-capacity magazine during his interview with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, apparently in violation of the District of Columbia's restriction on such devices

On the December 23rd edition of NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory used a very effective prop during his interview with the the National Rifle Association's CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre when they discussed the amount of ammunition that was available to Lanza and to other mass shooters.  While it might have made good television, he and his staff were in violation of public safety statutes in the District of Columbia Official Code which reads as follows:

(b) No person in the District shall possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “large capacity ammunition feeding device” means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The term “large capacity ammunition feeding device” shall not include an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.
The clip Gregory held up was one that could store up to 30 rounds for an AR-15 rifle, an amount well in excess of the 10 rounds addressed in the code.  Meet the Press is conducted in the studios of NBC's Washington affiliate WRC-TV, which is located in the northwestern portion of the District--and well within the jurisdiction of the aforementioned legal guidelines. Politico reported that the show   received approval for its use (if it was empty) but Gregory is currently under investigation by the DC Metropolitan Police Department for this incident. Gun rights supporters have started an online petition to have the host arrested for violating that law and they are less than 9,000 signatures away from a mandatory White House response (a similar initiative to have CNN primetime host Piers Morgan deported for expressing his anti-gun views on his program garnered over 98,000 supporters).

[P.S. I don't want this piece to wander into opinion on the issue of the role of an 18th century paradigm in a 21st century world--or wander into another year--so I'll leave it with that truncated ending.  Since I took so long to complete it (and also looking at the date/time it was finally posted), it's safe to say that this will be my final of 65 entries for 2012.  This past year was a very busy and interesting one for my journalism studies and I hope that 2013 will see similar rewards and milestones.  A hearty thanks goes out to all of my readers and Twitter followers for their patronage over the past 17 months.  I would also like to thank the real-world journalists I met this past year for the time, wisdom and advice they shared with me on my journey.]

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