|Shield with the Face of Medusa, by Arnold Bocklin|
I'm usually pretty good about anniversaries. The Loop Flood. The Picasso sculpture. I've got them down cold.
And I did know that the 30th anniversary of the Laurie Dann rampage was coming up this past Sunday, May 20. I was reminded 10 days ago, when Eric Zorn wrote a compelling column about one of the students who survived.
That took the wind out of my sails. It had been done, the subject tackled. Point to Zorn. I forgot about it, until I looked down at my Sun-Times folded on the sidewalk and saw Dann's set, schizophrenic face gazing up at me.
I should have written something. I should have tried. I was there.
Well, not there meaning inside Hubbard Woods School. Zorn had that. And a guest column in our paper Sunday by Phil Andrew, shot by Dann in his home that day. Another reason for me to keep my lip zipped. Their voices have been heard.
What would I add? The lessons I learned that day have little to do with Dann in particular or shootings in general, and more to do with me. I try not to make everything about myself.
But you know, every goddamn day, and it's Monday night and, well, why not? If you're Laurie-Danned out, and I wouldn't blame you, please stop by tomorrow. I'll have ... something.
That day in memory was significant. Not for any horror. The overall tone was running around, chasing the story as it unfolded. It was important, because it taught me I didn't want to be a reporter. Not in the chasing-after-hard-news sense.
Four moments stand out.
The first, the afternoon of the shooting. Dann not only shot up a second grade classroom, killing 8-year-old Nicholas Corwin, but had left poisoned treats for a frat at Northwestern. I arrived, to some kind of barbecue. One beefy frat guy, tending a grill, had eaten some of the poisoned Rice Krispies treats, but wasn't bothering going to the hospital. At least that's what he told me. Five years out of Northwestern myself, there was something unsettling and awful in sidling up to this joker with a can of beer in his fist, har-harring the whole thing away while he turned the grilling brats.
Second, late. The evening of the shooting. Dark out. Finding the teacher, Amy Moses, who saved the kids, by refusing to herd them together. Everybody wanted to find her. I did, not through any big sleuthing skills, I imagine. Someone at the desk probably gave me her address. So I'm at her apartment building, and I ring the buzzer with her name on it, and she answers, and I explain what I was there for. She says, "You know, I had a really bad day," or words to that effect. She didn't want to talk to me. Oh right, I thought, and said something along the lines of, "Yeah, I can't blame you there" and went away.
Not exactly Jimmy Olsen. But I wasn't going to badger this poor woman. My job was to find her, not wring some words out of her.
And third, the next day. Every journalist in the world was at the school—some kind of meeting with the parents. French television was there. One TV reporter stuck a microphone in the face of an 8-year-old, bending over, the child looking up. She asked something like, "And how do you feel when your classmate is killed like that?"
It was revolting. I fled, striding away, to the back of the school, where no one was, and saw bikes on a bike rack—all unlocked. And I thought, "That's why we're here, because this is a place where kids don't lock their bikes." A moment that impressed upon me the value of sometimes walking away from where things are supposedly "happening."
The final moment in the Laurie Dann quartet of memories came a year or two later. Winnetka was debating whether to name a park "Nicholas Corwin Park" after the boy who had been killed. The meeting was a stomach-turning essay in the pettiness of people. One woman actually said something like, "My kid died of cancer, where's his park." Several said that naming the park after the boy would mean they'd be constantly reminded of the tragedy.
That got me up to the podium. Reporters are really not supposed to speak at meetings they're covering. It's not done, but I did it. I walked up to the podium and said, in essence, "I'm a member of the media. And let me tell you, you are going to be reminded of this whether you like it or not. On the first anniversary and the fifth and the 10th and any time something similar happens somewhere else. You might as well name the park after the kid and take some control over the being reminded process."
|Despite the objections of some, |
Winnetka named the park for the murdered boy
So that's what I have. Realizing that I didn't want to chase the news, I wanted to comment on it. I'll hurry past the other, obvious stuff, which everybody has been saying aplenty. That now, 30 years later, school shootings are routine. That the toll--an 8-year-old boy killed and six wounded—would hardly mention a notice nowadays. A shooting where only one child dies is practically a good thing, because we've had so many worse. In 2012, 20 small children were slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut. We were shocked, but not so shocked as to actually do anything about the problem. Now we're beginning to feel silly saying we're shocked. We've come to expect it.