Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Growing up here, this couldn't happen

By Callie Vandewiele '08 
The photo on the front page of the CNN website at 8:58 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11 was a little disconcerting. It was a little disconcerting because it was of a place where I grew up. 

And on Fox News, BBC America and MSNBC, it was the same thing. 

The CNN headline reading "Gunman Opens Fire in Oregon Mall" was placed over a photo of the cinema where I watched the first Spider-Man movie and griped about the shiny Hollywood-style concrete they put in when they redesigned the entrance. 

The last time somewhere this familiar to me ended up on the news was in 2007, when an Eagle Creek man who was being evicted locked his three 200-pound pigs in the house before the bank repossessed it. They destroyed the house. That made the front page on what was perhaps a slow news day at The Oregonian. This is different. 

Growing up in Estacada, you kind of get the feeling that this sort of thing happens somewhere else -- not here. Sure, there's domestic violence. Some of us drop out of school, it can seem like half of us face serious battles with drugs and alcohol before we're even legal, and we all knew someone who got pregnant in 10th grade. 

But that's different. That stuff happens, and it happens to people we know. 

Someone walking into the mall -- the mall where I grew up, where I went Christmas shopping, where my sister worked for one eternal holiday season -- and pulling out a gun? That doesn't happen. In my mind it can't. At least, not here. But it did, and the proof is everywhere. It's odd to see the Clackamas Town Center layout spread across pages and pages of the Internet. 

Clackamas. Home. A place I wasn't allowed to hang out at alone until I was 16. It's so mundane. So Clackamas County. We're supposed to be famous for being bumpkins. Not for mall shootings. 

The awful truth is that this has been a reality for people in Colorado, people in Virginia, people in Texas -- Americans throughout the whole country -- a lot longer than it has been a reality for me. 

I always felt sad, shocked and bothered whenever I'd see the word "shooting" dance across the top of a news page. "Wow," I'd think, "I wonder if we can help." Then I'd follow it up with "I'm so glad I'm here, far away from all that. It's been a long time since anyone did anything like that here." 

Facing it, up front and personal like this, in a place so familiar to my high school years, suddenly reminds me how we are not immune to a form of violence that is increasing across the country. 

Vandewiele '08 pictured above
We can no longer disassociate ourselves from that bitter, dark trend. As the days and weeks unfold, we'll grieve with families, the 6 o'clock news will run grim expositions on what might have driven a human being to do this, people will fight for gun control and other people will oppose it. Eventually, the Clackamas County sheriff will release a report, and the whole thing will die down, fading slowly into history. 

For now, we will pray, send good thoughts, gather as a community and heal. What we should not forget is that this is not an isolated incident. Unless we take a long, hard look at the underlying causes, it won't be too long before another community has to face the terrifying and brutal truth that this is a national problem, and that this kind of violence has roots that run deeper than simple personal psychosis. To solve it, we need to do more than mourn. 

Vandewiele '08 graduated from Pacific with a degree in Politics and Government, and currently work for Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington. She is an avid bicycle commuter and local improviser. This piece was originally showcased as a Letter to the Editor for The Oregonian.

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