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Another young man opened fire in another American school yesterday, killing at least ten people in Oregon.
Back in 1997, I was attending 8th grade in the town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. On October 1 of that year, exactly 18 years before yesterday’s Oregon shooting, 16 year‐old Luke Woodham murdered his mother and traveled to Pearl High School, where he killed his ex‐girlfriend and another student, and injured seven others.
That is my first memory of a school shooting and it happened while I was close to attending high school myself. I still remember Woodham’s face on the news as well as the horrific confusion that left us all wondering why someone would kill his own mother.
Every year since then, I have heard the news of school shootings happening across the United States. After a little bit of research, I learned there were so many more that I didn’t even know about. The saddest part about all of this is that this is a common tragedy that has occurred pretty much every year since the 1850s. The recorded cases of the later years have increased year by year. This is a real American tragedy.
Sometimes the perpetrator is an insider, a teacher or a student, and sometimes an outsider, a parent or some random person who decides to target a school. One of the worst incidents I remember occurred in Pennsylvania in 2006 when Charles Roberts entered an Amish school and killed five girls.
Why do these tragedies happen over and over again?
Looking at some interviews of school shooters, there seem to be multiple reasons. However, the root of some of them often stems from bullying and social exclusion.
Jamie Rouse, who in 1995 shot two teachers dead in Lynville, Tennessee, described a truly sad life story. He was bullied in school. His father was an abusive alcoholic who didn’t allow him to cry. He ended up withdrawing from society and found solace in death metal music. As a young person growing up in the 90s, I, admittedly, delved into listening to death metal as well. Looking back at some of those songs, I am horrified at the messages they sent. The lyrics discussed killing yourself or others, and death in general. This was, as Rouse himself said, what made “killing look easy and fun.”
The environment around you shapes who you are. The messages you choose to surround yourself with will influence how you think. The injustice you, knowingly or unknowingly, deal on other people has a lasting effect.
Columbine was another example of shooters belonging to a specific group and targeting a specific group of “others.” The reality of any tragedy is that there is always a back story. Although there are criminals out there who are simply out of their minds, many crimes have a trail of causes and effects and, sometimes, points where there could have been intervention and prevention.
My main point from this discussion is this: be careful what and who you surround yourself with. Life is a beautiful thing. You choose to make it what it is. You choose how to interpret the events that happen in your life.
Yes, people suffer horrifying and sad experiences. But harming others or yourself will never provide a solution or an escape. We also have a responsibility to look out for the people in our lives around us. If they are being bullied or excluded, we have to intervene since we now know all too well that these incidents can leave a lasting mark.
As Muslims, we are taught that Jannah is obtained through the worship of God along with the service of people. I truly hope we wake up as a nation and realize that each one of us can make a difference if we simply start caring about ourselves and others a whole lot more.
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