Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Mass Shootings, True Heroes, and Doing the Right Thing

The article: The Heroes of Sandy Hook (BuzzFeed)

During the massacre that snuffed out the lives of twenty children and six teachers, the women profiled in the link above willingly risked death to save as many children as they could. Three of them — the principal, the school psychologist, and a first-grade teacher — died, yet succeeded in saving their children.

The story of the first-grade teacher, 27-year-old Victoria Soto, especially struck me. She hid her students in a closet just in time. When the gunman came and demanded where the students were, she told him they were in the gymnasium; she lied to protect them. Then he shot her dead and left. All her students survived.

Victoria Soto willingly gave up her life to save the children in her class. This, in my book, is the very definition of true heroism. She should be an inspiration and an example to all.

Now would I, vindictive old me, willingly risk my life to save innocents from a rampaging madman who once could have been me? Yes, back when I was the school outcast in four schools, middle and high, I had the potential to become one of these monsters. Fortunately, the mental health system was stronger, or at least my mother had enough connections to it that I got the therapy I needed. And I'm especially grateful to the child psychologist who worked with me then, Debbie Carlson, a truly compassionate person and the best therapist I would ever work with; she was there at exactly the right time.

Now, to answer my question: Normally, I'd want to either take out the bastard or run as far away as I could to make sure I didn't get killed. But I've been in one of my occasional spurts of growing up, and these heroic teachers have showed me a different way. So if I were in Victoria Soto's situation, faced with certain death yet a chance to save a classroom full of innocent and terrified children, I now know I'd do what she did: I'd face certain death calmly and misdirect the killer away from the kids. In some extreme situations, willingly giving up one's life to save others is exactly the right thing to do.

Of course this doesn't mean that doing the right thing necessarily involves giving up one's life or even risking it. It means following your conscience whenever you can, even if the whole system's against you.

Naturally, at first I was angry when I heard the horrible news, and posted a scorching rant on my opinion blog. Then I reflected more rationally (if still with some anger) in the follow-up post. But I ended up learning two lessons from the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy:
  1. the urgent need to repair America's ailing mental health system, rebuilding it from scratch if necessary; and
  2. that in tragic and horrific situations like this, people who willingly risk death to save lives are a shining example of humanity who are an inspiration to all.
And so I honor Dawn Hochsprung (the principal), Mary Sherlach (the school psychologist), and Victoria Soto, who out of love of and compassion for children willingly gave up their lives to save the children of their school from a rampaging madman. They, and the two teachers who saved their students and survived, are true heroes who should be remembered long after the murderer has been forgotten except as "yet another school shooter". They are my heroes.

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