Our new normal: When tragedy becomes commonplace


Saturday was moving along quite well when the news about another mass shooting — this one in Midland and Odessa — battered its way to the top of my social media news feed.

I had a Beto moment (look it up), took a deep breath, then began posting what I could find to the Hill Country News' social media.

There wasn't much, at first, and what there was was contradictory and chaotic. This is to be expected as the active shooter was still on the loose.

Finally, I found a live news feed from a Midland television station. I posted a link to that feed, then hunkered down to watch.

Finally, about an hour later, things came to a head in an Odessa movie theater parking lot.

"Looks like it’s over," I posted. "21 shot including 3 LOEs, 5 dead including a lone shooter."

That was the best information we had at the time but, after I tapped the "send" arrow on my iPad, I sat back and looked at the post.

It was a box score.

We are reporting the details of a mass shooting in a box score format. That's how normal it's become. Number of people shot, the number of those killed. And, did law enforcement capture or kill the shooter.

On Sunday, we visited family out at Lake Buchannan. After some pretty good brisket, baked potato and corn salsa, most folks fled the shade of the back porch for the pool or the jet ski. My sister-in-law stayed behind, as did I.

She glanced over at me and asked, tentatively, "Did you cover the, uh, the ... did you cover Midland?"

No, not directly, I told her, adding that I had tried to keep Hill Country News readers up to date on social media.

"Mmmm," she replied. It was obvious she struggled with something. "I don't know what to do."

Then, with a look of anguish, this local teacher of five-year-olds told me that her campus had had an active shooter drill the week before.

"I had them all — 16 five year olds — crammed into the bathroom. I tried to keep them quiet — I knew it was a drill. But one of them sneezed. Others wanted to talk. I knew it was a drill, of course, but they did something different. They tried to force the bathroom door open — AND I COULDN'T STOP THEM!"

She went on for a few minutes, asking herself over and over how she could protect a roomful of kindergarteners from someone determined to do them harm. Further, how she could be expected to protect them?

Then, she said, that evening while her family had gathered around the dinner table, her 10-year-old told them about his active shooter drill at school that day.

"Really," she asked. "This is what we talk about now? Active shooter drills at school?"

The conversation went on in that vein until some of the kids worked their way back to the patio in search of snacks and pool noodles and it wondered into less perilous territory (cancer, if you can imagine that).

But, it stuck with me.

This is the new normal. This is how we live now. And, for the most part, we appear to be okay with it. We must be okay with it because we resist any effort whatsoever to deal with it.

I won't lay out the proposals — we can no longer have a civil discussion about it and even the most innocuous of the proposals to curb mass killings have become polarizing.

As a friend put it, any effort to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people died the day we let 20 children get slaughtered at Newtown and did nothing.

Instead, we report every new massacre in a box score.

This is our new normal. I'm gonna be sick.

Richard Stone is the Editor in Residence at the Hill Country News. He has more than 30 years experience with small newspapers. His column, The Ragged Edge, has appeared in dozens of newspapers across the state. Stone recently retired as the publisher of the Taylor Press.