Maybe we want to tell ourselves Mobile still hasn’t had a mass school shooting because no one was killed this past Friday night, or because it happened at a football game and not during school hours. Maybe we can still cling to the idea that “it doesn’t happen here,” but what took place Friday night makes those mighty thin arguments.
We’ve officially entered the world of mass shootings that have been so prevalent across the rest of the country, but have mercifully passed us over.
I’m sure readers in far-flung parts of the country greeted the national news coverage of the shooting of nine people after the LeFlore-Williamson game with the same “that’s a shame, ho-hum” response most of us have these days when we hear about a less-than-deadly school shooting attempt somewhere else. Sadly, if the body count isn’t double digit it isn’t likely to raise an eyebrow.
But we were just lucky the 17-year-old now charged with nine counts of attempted murder didn’t have better aim. Otherwise Mobile would be the scene of the latest horrific mass killing, and parents and families would be planning funerals instead of tending to bandages.
If football is a game of inches, so too, it appears, is mass shooting. If those bullets had been a few inches up, down, left or right, there could easily have been nine body bags leaving Ladd-Peebles last Friday night and an entirely different narrative in media nationwide.
We don’t know the whole story yet, but Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste rather cryptically alluded to the shootings as something pre-planned and possibly carried out with a parent’s knowledge. The concept that Deangelo Parnell — who is now charged with nine attempted murders — may have somehow done this with a parent’s knowledge is mind-boggling.
I truly hope that is simply bad information coming from the confusion of such an event, because parents across the country already spend too much time worrying about their children being gunned down at school by a deranged loner without having to worry other parents are encouraging it.
My own son, a high school junior, attended the big rivalry game between Murphy and McGill at Ladd the night before. He also went to one in Robertsdale the next night. In both instances I cautioned him to watch his behavior and also just to be aware high school football games can also be places where young men let their tempers and testosterone get the best of them. And there were a couple of half-serious jokes about not getting pepper-sprayed at the painting of the cannon, as well.
But I’d be lying if the worry of an “active shooter,” as we now call them, didn’t drift through my head momentarily. After Friday night that worry is far more front and center than before, and much higher up the chart of things I need to worry about when the kids go to a football game.
Logic has dictated this plague of violence would eventually land upon our doorstep. We’re not special. The same societal pressures exist in Lower Alabama that do in other cities and towns where kids have been shot for no apparent reason. But there was still some part of me — and I suspect with many other parents as well — that hoped Mobile was somehow immune from such gun violence at a public event. Probably just because it hadn’t happened yet. I’m sure parents in places all across this country where schools became killing grounds felt the same way until it happened to them.
That delusion should be over.
We don’t know a lot about Deangelo Parnell yet. We can’t even say definitively he was the one who pulled the trigger, even though he surrendered to police the next day. If he is indeed the gunman, what will we find out about him? Was he bullied? Was he a loner? Does he fit the behavioral description of some of the other young men across America who decided to kill their classmates? Does it really matter if he does or doesn’t?
The one thing I hope officials don’t do in this situation is marginalize it as a “one off,” something done because of a “beef” between students or the encouragement of a parent. Too often lately we’re caught up in the “why” of these bloodbaths, even going as far as to try assigning political connections as trigger points for the attacks. It seems like the first thing people do after a mass shooting now is try to align the shooter politically with either the right or the left.
I’m not really sure those things make a massive difference any longer. Whether someone was spurred on because he likes or hates Trump, or because he was bullied or made fun of appears unlikely to stop the next shooting from happening. Calling something a hate crime doesn’t make it worse, and it sure doesn’t make it better if it’s your kid who gets killed. If this shooter doesn’t end up fitting neatly into one of those boxes, it shouldn’t offer a way of saying that wasn’t really a school shooting.
Thankfully no one was killed or seriously injured. Watching video of the end of the game and the reactions when the shooting began, it appears nothing short of a miracle no one was killed. I’m reminded of the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when a man unloaded a pistol at point-blank range at Jules and Vincent, missing them completely. Jules rightly recognized their survival as being part of a miraculous event. We should all feel the same about Friday night.
The mayor, police chief and city councilors are all saying the right things about stepping up security at such events. Certainly they are serious and want to make things safer, I just hope no one is lulled into a false sense of security because Friday night wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
This is the world we live in now. Somewhere in this area, someone is probably thinking about shooting a bunch of people. Maybe even shooting a lot of kids. Given the frequency with which these mass shootings now take place, it just seems completely logical to assume that is the case.
We need to do everything we can to make sure that person isn’t successful. We can’t count on another miracle.
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