There are no words.
Over the next few days, writers, journalists and newscasters will be playing one-string fiddles, bringing updates about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. But it will all just be white noise. Their talk will merely be commentary. Because there are no words. Not for this.
There are no words to explain why an 18-year-old opened fire in Robb Elementary shortly after allegedly killing his grandmother.
No words can accurately report the killing of 19 grade-schoolers and 2 adults, including fourth-grade teacher Eva Mireles. There are no words expressing why the flag is flying at half staff over the White House tonight.
Twenty-three years ago, I remember being struck dumb in much the same way.
I was in our church fellowship hall. The TV was playing in the corner. Our youth group had just finished setting up folding chairs for an upcoming wedding because our youth group was nothing but a glorified posse of janitors.
The primetime news was on. It was a Tuesday.
“Everybody shut up,” said someone’s mom, who stood before the television, chewing on her thumbnail.
We gathered around the screen and watched in rapt horror. The text on the TV read: “FIFTEEN DEAD IN SHOOTING.” The news reporter called it the “Massacre in Columbine, Colorado.”
I remember seeing footage of Patrick Ireland, 17, being pulled out a window by police officers clad in body armor. I remember hearing that Columbine’s two killers had selected minorities, jocks, and Christians for their victims.
I will forever remember Cassie Bernall, 17; Stephen Curnow, 14; Corey DePooter, 17; Kelly Fleming, 16; Matthew Ketcher, 16; Daniel Mauser, 15; Daniel Rohrbough, 15; Dave Sanders, 47; Rachel Scott, 17; Isaiah Shoels, 18; John Tomlin, 16; Lauren Townsend, 18; and Kyle Velasquez, 16.
I remember hearing about Valeen Schnurr. She had been shot and was crawling on the floor of the library, covered in her own blood. She was begging God not to let her die when her aggressor approached her.
“God?” he said. “Do you believe in God?”
She answered yes. The shooter reloaded. She suffered 34 separate wounds, and underwent multiple surgeries but did not die. I remember her.
I also remember the prayer vigils held at our church. I remember how people blamed video games, goth culture, TV violence, the movie “The Matrix,” Marilyn Manson, and paintball.
I remember the reports of copycat shootings that later peppered the news. I remember when local school districts closed for fear that something like Columbine would happen to us.
Yes, I remember.
Just like I remember the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the incident.
It was the day of my mother’s birthday party. We were having a belated get together at Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant, home of the kiddie-pool-sized margarita.
I arrived early. I was sitting at the bar, waiting for my mother. A three-man mariachi band was playing. The bar was adorned with cheap Christmas decor.
The news on the television overhead showed footage from Sandy Hook and everyone stopped talking. The mariachi band quit playing. The bartender turned it up.
“You hear what happened in Connecticut today?” someone remarked.
“Sssshhh!” said another.
Diane Sawyer was on the screen, standing in front of Newtown, Connecticut, United Methodist Church.
I remember hearing replays of the 911 call recordings. I remember the footage of the school library. Most of all, I remember the interviews with grade-school children who witnessed the attacks.
A first-grader who was missing her two front teeth spoke to the camera and broke your heart.
“There was all this racket in our classroom and we were all so scared…”
I remember Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Rachel D’Avino, 29; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Dylan Hockley, 6; Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung,47; Madeline Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 6; Jesse Lewis, 6; Anne Marquez-Green, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Lauren Rosseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; and Allison Wyatt, 6.
And I will always remember today. My wife and I had been visiting Aunt Catherine. The news was playing on television. There were images of armed law enforcement personnel wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, carrying rifles. They were standing outside an elementary school. Emergency vehicles galore. Sirens blaring.
My wife was standing before the TV, chewing on her thumbnail. Without explaining herself, she muted the television, gripped my hands and said she wanted us to pray for the victims’ families.
But when I closed my eyes, there were no words. And try as I may, I still can’t find any.
God bless Uvalde, Texas.