There But For The Grace Of God Go I: The Colorado Massacre

Friday morning I woke up like most of you to the news that a gunman had opened fire on a sold out movie theater at the midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie in Colorado.  12 dead.  More than 50 injured.  Another act of senseless violence committed in America.

The youngest killed was 6 and there was a baby injured.  There were children in the theater in what was expected to be a fun filled night at the movies.  People were dressed in costumes.  Excitement certainly filled the air.  No one could have imagined or ever predicted how the night would unfold so tragically.  In a way that would leave our nation, our world, in stunned disbelief.

But within a few hours of the news breaking, I started hearing comments questioning the judgment of parents who would allow their child to attend a midnight premiere of a PG-13 movie.  Suggesting somehow that these parents shared the blame for the harm that came to their child.

It reminded me of what we heard following the murder of eight year old Leiby Kletzky last summer.  His parents allowed him to walk home from camp over a few practiced blocks in a safe area of New York City. In a horrible twist of fate, he was kidnapped and murdered during that short walk.  There was a rush to blame his parents for allowing him to walk alone.  Suggesting that they had somehow contributed to his death.

Leiby’s parents couldn’t have possibly imagined his fate in their worst nightmare.  He didn’t die because they let him walk halfway home alone from camp for the first time.  He died because the man who confessed murdered him.  The murderer was to blame, not Leiby’s parents.  Had they known that this was going to happen, of course they would never have agreed to let him go alone.  But who could have ever predicted that horror?

Fast forward to today.  A massacre in a movie theater.  Parents made choices all across the nation to allow their children to attend the midnight premiere.  Yes, it’s a movie that contains violence.  Yes, it is rated PG-13.  But despite that, there is NO way any parent would have agreed to allow their child to attend that movie had they known that their lives would be in danger.  They were going to a movie for crying out loud!  What happened is beyond belief.  But it is in no way the fault of any of the parents who allowed their children to attend that movie.

Sadly, our nation has experienced other mass shootings.  Churches.  Shopping Centers.  Schools.  Universities.  Places that are normally safe.  When those events occurred, no one said “Why did that parent allow their child to go to school that day?  What were they thinking?”  You never heard, “That parent should have never let their child go to church on Sunday!”  Not once was there a “How dare that parent let their child attend college?”

I understand that you might be against violence in movies.  I know that you may think that kids shouldn’t be out past midnight.  I know there are some of you that believe no child under 13 should be in a PG-13 movie.  There is a time and a place for those discussions.  They are each legitimate arguments and concerns.  But these issues are not what caused the massacre in Aurora, Colorado.  One gunman, whose reasons for carrying out this horrific crime we may never know, is to blame.

Searching for a cause is natural.  It’s a way of trying to reassure ourselves as parents that we can keep this type of nightmare away from our families.  We can say, “well I wouldn’t let my children go to a movie like that at midnight.”  Or “I’m not allowing my children to be exposed to violence in movies.”  That’s our minds way of reassuring ourselves that this horror couldn’t happen to us.  But it can.  It’s random.  It’s unfathomable.  But it is possible.  Blaming the parents of these victims only hurts them further.  And they are already experiencing pain we can’t even begin to imagine.  If we were in their shoes, the last thing we would need is society questioning why we chose to take our child to a movie.

So today, I challenge you to pay attention to how you’re responding to this tragedy.  Instead of blaming the parents of the victims, blame the gunman who perpetrated this tragedy.  For the victims and their loved ones, pray for healing and a peace that surpasses all understanding.  Be kind to your neighbor.  Smile at a stranger.  Hug your kids.  Love one another.  And remember, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

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About Dr. Polly Dunn

Child clinical psychologist, wife, and mom of four blogging about her 'Perfectly Imperfect' parenting solutions.

Comments

  1. I believe there is a frantic scramble to find someone to blame in face of this kind of event. Looking at all that might contribute to such a tragic event is one way we can respond to at least do what we can to learn from and hopefully preventing something like this from happening again. One of my thoughts in response to this is something that I feel can be changed. Our educational system is sadly lacking in funds and efforts to maximize education as something that should be fully funded. An exceptionally intelligent student is often part of a group that gets as neglected as those who have special needs. Both populations suffer because of this and the rest of the student population gets only a mediocre standardized approach as if all students learn the same. Exceptional brightness that is neglected can often go horribly directed towards very destructive behaviors especially if that bright student is excluded or even bullied for being different. Unsupervised uncontained brilliance can and does get channelled into obsessive often sociopathic behavior. Parents alone cannot educate and raise a child alone : it takes the collective community being willing to invest in our future. It takes a country that’s unwilling to participate in endless resource draining wars and political battles that immobilize a healthy governance. It takes a medical and mental health system to insure the benefits for all to have access so that attention can be made easily available to all who need those services. This tragic act did not happen in a vacuum and we need to act together collectively to overcome the many contributors to this incident.

    • You bring up a lot of good points, especially the concern that “unsupervised uncontained brilliance can and does get channeled into obsessive often sociopathic behavior.” Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

  2. I think that it is justified that people question why infants and young children are brought to see this movie. Obviously the gunman is to blame for his victims. However can our society not take any blame as well? Research clearly demonstrates that watching violence desensitizes people to violence, that it skews a person’s perception of the occurrence of violence, and that it makes people more fearful. What parent wants any of this for their child? Had the shooting not happened I would still question the judgement of parents who bring their children to violent and obscenity laced movies. This just continues a cycle of citizens that tolerates violence and then ignorantly question how something like this mass shooting happens. You have posted frequently about child sexual abuse. I am a little shocked that you do not also see that showing children violent images is another form of abuse. Where is the wake-up call that maybe we shouldn’t be exposing young children to such images ? No, the parent who chose to bring their child to this movie is not to blame for their child’s death, but the society who continues to expose children to these images is responsible for the lessons that the children learn.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. You are right, we all need to be aware of the impact of violent images on our children. In today’s society it seems as though those images are coming at our kids from every direction.

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  1. [...] it seems that these tragedies are happening at an alarming pace, from the victims of the Colorado movie theater massacre this summer to the precious lives lost this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  How can I [...]

  2. [...] health concerns to get the help they so desperately need.  I wrote about it in August after the massacre in Colorado.  The post Does My Child Need Therapy? came from my honest belief that perpetrators of these [...]

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