Of course my heart, as I’m sure all our hearts, goes out to the families of the victims of the Newtown tragedy. I want to preface this post with the fact these are my own observations and opinions – this is merely an editorial I hope will start a conversation into solving an abhorrent, yet increasingly common ailment of society. I have more questions than answers, but I feel strongly that only in coming together as a community searching for solutions, do we stand a hope in abolishing these atrocities from happening.

This should be a time of year filled with joy, not terror for children.

This should be a time of year filled with joy, not terror for children.

This incident hit home stronger than ever due to the many innocent young souls lost, and the brave teachers that died trying to protect them. The victims are not just those that lost their lives – consider the six year old that witnessed the carnage who must find the courage to walk back into a classroom again. It boggles my mind. The fact I spent the day after the massacre surrounded by children of the same age at the Christmas party organized by BAFTA LA made it all the more poignant.

Kara organizing the volunteers at the Athens Way Christmas Party

Kara Miller organizing all us volunteers at the Athens Way Christmas Party on December 15th.

The anguish in those parents faces in Connecticut haunted me as I watched my friends play soccer, children screaming with glee throwing snowballs and building snow castles (I did find the humor in how southern California kids are more accustomed to building sand castles than snowmen), singing and dancing, jumping on bouncy toys, and playing games to win tickets in exchange for gifts.

UK International Soccer Camp

UK International Soccer Camp

We were in an open park. I was well aware of how easily it could have happened there. In fact, there actually was another shooting incident that evening in a shopping mall I frequent with my family near Newport Beach.

Snowballs and snow castles at the Athens Way Christmas Party December 15th.

Snowballs and snow castles at the Athens Way Christmas Party December 15th.

It was a bittersweet experience to get to play Santa’s helper and hand out all the toys, t-shirts, and dvd’s donated by BAFTA LA members, and the studios. As joyous as the occasion was, the shadow of sadness for the families whose holidays were anything but joyful this year persevered throughout – constantly racking my brain for what could have prevented this tragedy, and how we possibly prevent the next?

Getting to play Santa's helper at the Athens Way Christmas party.

Getting to play Santa’s helper at the Athens Way Christmas party

I’m finding it as difficult as the next person to tear my eyes away from the 24/7 coverage of the event. Perhaps this is part of the healing process? We are humans, therefore our minds will seek answers, but could it possibly be part of the problem? Is it about searching for answers, or is it about ratings? Does our media report responsibly enough? I found it offensive when they started drawing parallels between Adam Lanza’s possible diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome and cause of the attack. Children with Aspergers are much more likely to be the recipients of bullying and violence, than the perpetrators. There is absolutely no known evidence that links the two, so to make these ignorant assumptions puts these already vulnerable children with Aspergers at greater risk for increased ostracization.

When mentally ill individuals gain posthumous fame – does it inspire the next desperate person to do the same? I can’t help asking myself, are we looking for the answers, or someone to blame? Yes, these acts are committed by sick people, but it is a society that is less than healthy that breeds the perfect storm for these situations to happen.

Society today - from carefree jbouncey toys to need for police presence

Society today – from carefree jbouncey toys to need for police presence

I know my European friends like to point their fingers and say it is an American problem, but the truth of the matter is it could and does happen anywhere throughout the world. Having said that, our lack of gun control laws does play a role. You will never convince me that semi-automatic weapons meant for war, have a place in our homes. I am personally against handguns as well, although I understand people feeling they have a right to defend themselves. So where do you draw the line?

The most eye opening part of the puzzle I’ve run across these past few days is an article written by a mother of a mentally ill son, entitled I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother. I implore you to click this link and read it. I cried when I did. Clearly she is a mother who loves her child, but his problems are too big for her to handle alone. We are failing these families. We have got to start searching for ways of treating these troubled youths before it escalates to another Sandy Hook or Columbine. Incarcerating them is not a solution. It costs us billions in taxpayer dollars anyhow, and only serves to criminalize them further, making them more dangerous, before releasing them back onto the street due to overcrowding. These people need facilities that offer them treatment. Yes, it will cost, but not as high a price as what the victims of Newtown are now paying.

Searching for solutions and holiday spirit once again.

Searching for solutions and holiday spirit once again.

The answers may well come in a form that asks us to open our minds further, find forgiveness and deeper understanding in our hearts; to broaden our concept of what the holiday spirit means. It goes without question that the families of the victims are in our hearts, but what about the families of the perpetrators? Nancy Lanza is a victim as well, and was probably one long before her son shot and killed her. I think it is time we force ourselves to stop labeling these ill individuals as monsters, examine what causes their mental illness, treat them, and fix our flawed system. Yes, this could happen again, but it doesn’t need to if we make guns less available – especially to people with histories of mental and emotional instability, and send those in need to facilities that safely house and treat these illnesses appropriately before they escalate to another violent tragedy.

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  • December 18, 2012
    12:34 pm

    Thanks for this Jewels. My concern with that article is that she doesn’t have a diagnosis. She confuses mental illness with a development disorder like autism. But it is more to the point that people do not understand either and there is very little support for these people. I think we also have a cultural problem that’s much harder to solve than gun control and the mental illness issues. As I was searching the social media sites for more information over the weekend, there was so much vitriol. I saw celebrities saying if you own guns, F off and unfollow me. I saw people in my own community slander our teachers and police departments because they don’t believe they are doing all they can to keep their kids safe. I saw people who believe in god get verbally attacked by those who don’t and vice versa. While I understand that people were angry and scared, there was the undercurrent of “if you aren’t with me, you are against me.” And it’s really pervasive in social media along with heavy doses of sarcasm and mockery. During the election, it was at full hilt. Our children spend a lot of time in these places. I would suspect that we are starting to see the first internet raised children becoming adults. What are we teaching our kids about empathy and compassion? Is it something we talk about it, but then do the opposite on Facebook? Of course I know that mass shootings preceed the internet. Maybe this has always been present in our culture and we just have a way to showcase it now. It saddened me that this was the way some chose to respond. I think perhaps we could honor those innocent lives much better with acts of kindness rather than attacking those who disagree with us.

    • December 18, 2012
      12:56 pm

      Amen to Shelly AND Jewels. There is so much around this. It’s not that mother’s fault there is no diagnosis…The mentally ill are like lab rats because still, today, there is SO MUCH we do not know about the human brain. Our food industry also has to take responsibility for how what they do to our food affects the brain and its function. We have to REOPEN mental health facilities and extensive inpatient programs no matter WHAT the cost. We need to not only ban military grade weapons from private citizens, but violent video games that are desensitizing (and babysitting) our youth, and re-wiring their brains and short circuiting them. There are SO MANY things to look at that need attention. I have two mentally ill sisters. Do you know how hard it is to get an adult mentally ill person who CLEARLY is not functioning and needs help into inpatient care? Then, even with federal and state insurance (because that is all that is afforded) AND private insurance, they are released before they are ready because their benefits ran out. You can see the vicious circle this creates. I know what it’s like to be afraid of a sibling when they are off balance because they somehow suddenly hate you in that state of mind. Thank you for helping to further discussion and put light on this very overdue subject, Jewels.

      • December 19, 2012
        8:39 am

        Thank you for shedding more light on the frustrations of getting a loved one help (and lack there of). I think people think the families of the mentally ill have their heads in the sand, or are negligent. I don’t think many people realize there is precious little help to be had. You only have to look at our homeless – another travesty within our society – to know.

        I’m not saying mental illness is the whole cause – there are other factors that have to all come together – not least of which was access to those guns, and I agree – we really need to rethink our entertainment – do we really need such violent video games, television shows, and movies? Is that really the only way to derive pleasure from entertainment today? Or is it laziness and lack of creative imagination?

    • December 18, 2012
      1:10 pm

      You hit the nail on the head Shelly – it’s a community or societal ailment, and unless we pull together, and work harder towards supporting each other and looking for solutions together – this situation will continue to fester.

      I think we need to think like a community – these are all our children and our responsibility. I’m not condoning what he did, but sometimes it does take a village to raise a child, and Adam Lanza was one of those children. We have to put aside our fears and prejudices and try harder to understand, support, and heal.

  • December 18, 2012
    12:45 pm

    Thanks for that Julie Anne. When I got home that night, I hugged both my boys, thanking God that nothing like that has happened at their schools, and am now contemplating home schooling Sean Jr again.

    • December 18, 2012
      1:13 pm

      While I understand your wanting to home school after an event as horrific as this, I don’t think it is the solution. You can home school, and your kids go to a mall, or a movie, or a restaurant, or a park and still have this happen.

  • December 18, 2012
    1:08 pm

    Thank you for writing about this and you are spot on. I think this has hit everyone especially hard because of the ages of the students and heroic efforts of their teachers so on many occasions I’ve seen people normally being able to discuss issues completely flying off the handle. My own facebook has been filled with a mixture of ‘get rid of all firearms’ to ” arm everyone’ to “keep god in the classroom and this wouldn’t happen” and of course on Saturday, the names and ages of the victims which just brought about even more tears of disbelief and sadness. My two are ages 5 and 6 so each name and age of the victims were names and faces of their own friends and I think a lot of people felt this. I did a good job at keeping my cool until someone mentioned Autism and Aspergers and admittedly, I saw red. The person classified it as a mental illness and yet again the ignorance surrounding Autism Spectrum was on full display along with the R word. There have been so many touching tributes to the victims such as the cold open to SNL and the childrens choir or the coaches, judges and contestants of “The Voice” singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah holding a card with a name and age of a victim.

    The day after, I had 5 kids – ages 4 to 7 at my kitchen table with a gingerbread house in front of them, a piping bag in their hand and a table full of bowls of candy. It was loud, messy and joyful. I was taught how to do the ‘Gangnam Style” dance and was left with sore sides from laughing at the antics and ideas. After they were done, full of hot chocolate and tearing around our small house as I cleaned up, there was finally enough time for it to hit…these kids were around the same age. I couldn’t imagine life without any of them because I love them and I often wonder what they’ll contribute to the world as they grow and into adulthood. The world has been robbed of 20 of these promises and I have no answers. I do know we all held our kids a lot tighter since then.

  • December 18, 2012
    1:28 pm

    Which came first – the chicken or the egg, or in this case ignorance or fear?

    We can’t help putting ourselves in the victims shoes, and hugging our children tighter. Fear is a natural response to the most horrific nightmare any parent could ever imagine. I also agree “… I often wonder what they’ll contribute to the world as they grow and into adulthood. The world has been robbed of 20 of these promises and I have no answers.”

    The one thing I am sure of, is that letting fear, intolerance and prejudice rule our minds and actions is never going to solve anything. Perhaps we all need to think harder about how social media can and should reflect a kinder social conscience. I think this too could be a very important part of the equation.

  • December 19, 2012
    11:09 am

    BTW, God – by whatever name you choose to call that entity greater than ourselves (if you are a believer), was never removed from the classroom, religion was, and religion HAS been responsible for more violence throughout history than all the Adam Lanza’s put together.

  • December 19, 2012
    4:48 pm

    I find myself watching all the news reports, listening while all the psychiatrists, psychologists, experts in all fields, try to help by giving advice on how to deal with the all enveloping grief that is shared by so many. It seems that there is so much coverage that I wonder how the residents of Newtown are getting through this media blanket that is all over and around them. Is this possibly providing another person with ideas that will cause another massacre? No one can say for certain. I honestly have to wonder how reporters could approach the surviving children and want to interview them. It just doesn’t seem right. This town needs to have space right now, time away from the cameras, to let them grieve, bury their children and the teachers that lost their lives trying so hard to save these innocent little ones. Honestly, I’m not really into the holiday celebrations on any given year, but this year even less so inclined to want to celebrate. It almost seems wrong to celebrate, smile, or be happy. One health care specialist suggested that we still need to celebrate, but perhaps putting a special angel ornament on our trees in memory of all these lives that ended too soon would help in the healing. Maybe this is a start to help us move on. But for Newtown, it’s going to be a bittersweet holiday for those who survived and pure agony for those who lost a loved one. Gun control is only part of the answer on preventing this from happening again. Diagnosing and providing care for those with mental health issues is again only a part of the solution, but just as important as gun control. There are many more parts of the puzzle to finding solutions and we all need to be open and listen to what is being said in the days to come. But, open dialogue is going to be needed and people need to take a step back and here’s the tough part, not let there own emotions overtake the discussions. There is a long road ahead of us to find the answers and put them into legislation. Time will tell whether or not we are up to this challenge.