The news that a 15-year-old student had opened fire and killed a classmate at tiny Freeman High School struck a familiar note here in the Basin. A little over 20 years ago another boy of similar age killed two classmates and a teacher at Frontier Middle School. We know well the emotions that Freeman and Rockport are feeling now, even if it’s hard to put into words.
Not that there’s any shortage of armchair psychologists and talking news heads with things to say. Everybody out there, it seems, knows how the tragedy could have been prevented, and who’s to blame, and what should be done next. They may never have experienced it themselves, but they know all about it.
The first thing to do, of course, is blame Mom and Dad, as though they stood blithely by and watched their child gravitate toward murder. “They should have been more involved,” say critics who have never actually raised teenagers. Adolescence is a murky time when kids are figuring out their own identities. It’s common for them not to share thoughts and feelings with their parents. Couple that with the notorious mood swings and poor impulse control that make the teen years so interesting, and even the healthiest home life becomes a roller coaster. How can you tell that Teen A is going to TP the English teacher’s house and Teen B is going to spray the classroom with lead? Answer: you can’t until it happens.
The same thing applies to the criticisms that parents should have been stricter or looser in their rules, or that they should or should not have had him on medication, or any factor that shows up in hindsight. Most parents are doing their best and no parents wanted this to happen. Let’s lay off them.
OK, so how about the school? Shouldn’t they have been better prepared? Of course. What they really needed were armed guards in every hall, bulletproof vests on every student, tear gas grenades in the nurse’s office. They certainly should have anticipated something that in more than 99 percent of schools will never happen. As for teachers and counselors interacting with the child, see above. If the parents couldn’t predict the worst, a teacher probably won’t either.
Then comes the politics. Folks on one side of the aisle will demand all kinds of restrictions on weaponry while folks on the other side will accuse them of using the tragedy as an excuse to push an agenda. We’re not weighing in here on either side of gun control. But we do point out that guns are a normal part of the American environment, just as Japan has earthquakes and Australia has snakes the size of oil tankers. One tragedy isn’t going to make them go away.
So what can we say to the families of Freeman High School?
We can say that it’s going to be horrible for a while. That fingers will point and neighbors will be mad at each other. That the trial and its aftermath will put a strain on relationships between friends and family.
We can say that even though a community never completely heals from something like this, the pain and fear do eventually fade into the background. Your kids who are in school now may never enter a classroom again without a sickening dread, but in a few years they’ll be grown and a new generation of kids will be able to have a normal school experience. The teachers who are there now will retire and be replaced by fresh new faces who know about the violence only through stories.
We can say that the news jackals that descend on your town will rip open your community, hold it up for the world’s horrified entertainment, and then leave it just as quickly when a juicier story comes along elsewhere. That the names Freeman High School and Caleb Sharpe will crop up in the news as footnotes every time violence breaks out somewhere else.
We can send our thoughts and prayers, and unlike so many people who spout that phrase reflexively, we can mean it because we once needed them ourselves.
Hang in there, Freeman. You’re not alone.
— Editorial Board