When I was a little girl, my greatest fear was a faceless man driving a white van. I didn’t know who he was or if he even existed, but he, in some part, made me into the person I am today: aware and cognizant of my surroundings. “He” was a child abductor, and the possibility of being taken from my mother and grandmother was my silent nightmare.
I grew up in a time when a single person hurting or harming a single child in an isolated event was the worst kind of crime. It was a time when the abduction and murder of young Adam Walsh (1974-1981) was what we feared most as a society. We didn’t have the kinds of crimes that are now becoming all too common. We didn’t have mass killings in our schools and educational institutions. We didn’t have tens of children being taken far too soon with countless families left behind to grieve and suffer.
Growing up in the late 70s and 80s, child abduction was today’s mass school shootings. News often revealed the faces of beautiful children; victims who sadly fell prey to sick, disturbed, evil human beings. In my local community, we had our own, isolated scare. A man driving an older white van tried to abduct a young girl on her way home from school. It was drilled into my head from that point forward that I had to be aware. I had to recognize potential threats and take action if I ever found myself in harm’s way. I feared being abducted. This was the crime of my time.
Unlike today’s school shootings, this type of crime often lends itself to some type of understanding – understanding of the people who commit these crimes and why they go to the lengths they do to hurt others. Abduction is more often than not premeditated and the reasoning, grotesque, frequently involving individuals who are social outcasts. Sadistic, they harbor inappropriate feelings involving children and act out because they want to fulfill a predatory desire. While unforgivable, many abduction cases can be rationalized and understood to some extent. That little bit of understanding gives us hope. Hope that together we can find answers. Hope that together we can take measures to better protect our children. Hope that while we can never forget, together we can find some level of peace.
The crime against Adam brought national attention to child abduction. Adam’s case helped spark the formation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It also gave his father, John Walsh, the courage to stand up and fight against perpetrators and become an advocate for victims’ rights. In some small way, Adam brought hope that we could make a change and, as evident, we have.
Last night, President Obama spoke at a vigil in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children and six adults were murdered on Friday. He vowed to the community that he would use whatever power his office holds to find a way to prevent future mass shootings. As a mom and someone who is grieving alongside the parents who lost their children, I want to believe him. I want to believe there is hope; that we can make a monumental change in our society. I just don’t understand how it’s possible, given the complexity and context surrounding mass school shootings. Unlike abductions, there is no familiar face. No two shooting cases are alike. How do you find and implement measures to prevent crimes when there is very little understanding of why they occurred in the first place?
As you can see, I’m struggling today. I’m struggling to come to grips with the loss and reality that anyone could ever hurt a child. I’m also struggling because I don’t understand what we can do to stop those who open fire in our schools. Anyone could be a school shooter. It could be a mentally ill child of a teacher or a student who has spent years enduring the bullying of his peers. There is no profile or true understanding of what drives someone to enter an educational institution and take the lives of the innocent.
All I can do is hope. Hope, as we all can, that more time and resources will be devoted to researching and understanding these terrible crimes. Today, I can also be thankful. It snowed overnight and school was cancelled this morning. My kiddos are home near me within eyesight. They are happy and smiling. That alone gives me hope. Hope for Newtown, hope for change.