Twenty little childrenBy Benjamin Pimentel
SAN FRANCISCO — I was waiting for my first son to be born, getting ready to be a tatay, when the Columbine Massacre happened in 1999.
I was stunned like the rest of the world. But I don’t remember being as distressed as I was on Friday when a gunman killed 20 little children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut.
Certainly, parenthood was a reason. My eldest son is now 13. I have a younger son who is seven. The thought that inevitably crosses every parent’s mind when something like this happens: ‘My child could have been part of that.’
But thanks to my bunso I was spared the mind-numbing news barrage that I surely would have had to endure if I had been at work that day. I was home with him because he was sick. We didn’t have the TV on that morning and I didn’t get to use the computer much. We later had to go to the hospital for him to see a doctor.
As a result, I heard about the tragedy after most of America and the world already knew about what happened. Only when we got home did I get more details of the massacre.
Too many details, in fact. I’ve heard this story before, I thought. I decided to tune it out. That may be odd for a journalist to do. But it was not the kind of news I really cared to follow closely. It’s certainly not news that I wanted my son to hear.
I’ve covered only one massacre as a reporter. In 1993, I was part of the San Francisco Chronicle team that covered the shooting rampage that left nine people dead at 101 California in San Francisco’s Financial District.
And I’ve had my share of other stories of bloodshed, of violence that simply didn’t make any sense.
President Obama didn’t know how to make sense of the Newtown tragedy. I watched his speech online when he reacted as a fellow parent, a fellow tatay. I heard him tearfully call for meaningful action whatever that meant.
In any case, there surely will be a stronger call for gun control. But this isn’t just about out-of-control gun ownership. From my experience as a journalist, it’s usually about mental health.
I covered the trial of a young Filipino who stabbed a nine-year-old girl in Redwood City. She survived and even had the courage to testify during the trial.
In Richmond, I had to report on an even more gruesome attack inside a classroom. One day, the father a middle schooler entered the boy’s school and stabbed his son’s teacher in front of his class.
The assailants in both cases were mentally disturbed. In the Richmond case, authorities let me do a jailhouse interview with the man who attacked the teacher. He clearly was not well.
“The plan was to stab her, get out of there and go home and get arrested,” he told me in a rambling interview, while a sheriff’s deputy sat next to us. He was supposed to be on medication, he said, but “I haven’t been taking it because I know I’m not crazy.”
It was one of the weirdest interviews I ever did.
But that story had a happy ending of sorts. The teacher survived and returned to her classroom.
Perhaps the most stunning part of the story was what her assailant’s son did. The day after the attack, the boy returned to his school and apologized to the school for what happened. He was in tears. So were his teachers and the school staff.
There were tears but no happy ending in Newtown, Connecticut.
‘The world did end,’ a friend wrote on Facebook, referring to the legendary Mayan prediction of the world’s end on December 21.
I joined others in reposting a YouTube clip of the Carpenters song about children and innocence. It’s a beautiful ballad with the lyrics:
“Bless the beasts and the children
“For in this world they have no voice
“They have no choice
“Bless the beasts and the children
“For the world can never be
“The world they see …”
On Facebook, a few friends, expressing outrage and sadness, urged parents to hug their children. I did that which probably made my son wonder what all the extra hugging was about.
The day ended with my bunso still unaware of what had just happened.
On Twitter @BoyingPimentel. Visit and like the Kuwento page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/boyingpimentel
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