After the vigils, the real work begins

Members of the community left trinkets at a makeshift memorial on July 17, in front of the Armed Forces Career Center off of Lee Highway where a shooting spree began leading to the death of four Marines in Chattanooga.
Members of the community left trinkets at a makeshift memorial on July 17, in front of the Armed Forces Career Center off of Lee Highway where a shooting spree began leading to the death of four Marines in Chattanooga.
photo A group of people watches from Coolidge Park as two aircraft from the Museum of Flight perform an honor flight along the Tennessee River to salute the marines and sailor killed in the July, 16, shooting Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The group was there dancing all morning to help collect donated items for Chattanooga Police Officer Dennis Pedigo, who was injured in the July, 16, shootings at the Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway which left six dead, including the shooter.

Sadly, when mass murder occurs so publicly, so unexpectedly, so indiscriminately, it's the killers' names that seem to linger.

And when those are forgotten - as tragedy eclipses tragedy, as their faces fade from memory - the terror is just remembered by place.

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. Tucson. Aurora, Colo. Newtown. Charleston.

And now, Chattanooga.

Even on the day Chattanooga buried one of its lost Marines, the mass media spotlight already had veered to Lafayette, La., where a 59-year-old man walked into a theater and opened fire, killing two and wounding others.

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Mass shootings since Columbine that killed more than five:July 16, 2015: A 24-year-old man kills four Marines and one Navy specialist in Chattanooga.June 18, 2015 A white supremacist kills nine people attending Bible study at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C..May 23, 2014: A man fires from black BMW, kills seven in the UC Santa Barbara town of Isla Vista.Sept. 16, 2013: A Navy contractor shoots and kills 13 at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.Dec. 14, 2012: A gunman enters Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and shoots and kills 20 first-graders and six adults. He also killed his mother at the home they shared.Sept. 27, 2012: A fired worker kills five at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, Minn.; three others were wounded.Aug. 5, 2012: Six Sikh temple members were killed when a 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis. Four others were injured.July 20, 2012: During the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., a 24-year-old killed 12 people and wounded 58.May 29, 2012: A man opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, Wash, killing five.April 6, 2012: Two men shot five black men in Tulsa, Okla., in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.April 2, 2012: A former student killed seven people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, Calif.Oct. 14, 2011: Eight people died in a shooting at Salon Meritage hair salon in Seal Beach, Calif. The gunman killed six women and two men, while just one woman survived.Sept. 6, 2011: A gunman entered an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, Nev., and shot 12 people. Five died, including three National Guard members.Jan. 8, 2011: Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head when a 22-year-old opened fire on an event she was holding at a Safeway market in Tucson, Ariz. Six people died, including Arizona District Court Chief Judge John Roll, one of Giffords’ staffers and a 9-year-old girl. Nineteen total were shot.Aug. 3, 2010: A man gunned down Hartford Beer Distributor in Manchester, Conn., after getting caught stealing beer. Eight were killed and two others injured.Nov. 5, 2009: Forty-three people were shot by an Army psychiatrist at the Fort Hood army base in Texas.April 3, 2009: A man opened fire at an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., before committing suicide. He killed 13 people and wounded four.March 29, 2009: Eight people died in a shooting at the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home in Carthage, N.C.Feb. 14, 2008: A man opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, killing six and wounding 21. The gunman shot and killed himself before police arrived. It was the fifth-deadliest university shooting in U.S. history.Feb. 7, 2008: Six people died and two were injured in a shooting spree at the City Hall in Kirkwood, Mo. The gunman opened fire during a public meeting after being denied construction contracts.Dec. 5, 2007: A 19-year-old in a department store in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., killed nine people and wounded four before killing himself.April 16, 2007: Virginia Tech became the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history when a student gunned down 56 people; 32 died in the massacre.Feb. 12, 2007: In Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square Mall, five people were shot to death and four others were wounded by an 18-year-old gunman.Oct. 2, 2006: An Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pa., was attacked by a 32-year-old who separated the boys from the girls, binding and shooting the girls. Five girls died, while six were injured.March 25, 2006: Seven died and two were injured in a shooting spree in Seattle, Wash. The massacre was the worst killing in Seattle since 1983.March 21, 2005: Teenager killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend before opening fire on Red Lake Senior High School in Minnesota, killing nine people on campus and injuring five.March 12, 2005: During a Living Church of God meeting at a Sheraton hotel in Brookfield, Wis., a 44-year-old church member executed the pastor, the pastor’s 16-year-old son and seven others. Four were wounded.July 8, 2003: A Lockheed Martin employee, shot up his plant in Meridian, Miss., shot 14 people and killed seven before killing himself.Dec. 26, 2000: An Edgewater Technology employee shot and killed seven of his coworkers at the office in Wakefield, Mass.Sept. 15, 1999: A man opened fire on a Christian rock concert and teen prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He killed seven people and wounded seven others, almost all teenagers.July 29, 1999: An investor shot his way through two Atlanta day trading firms, killing 12.April 20, 1999: In the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, teenagers in Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killed 13 people and wounded 21 others. They killed themselves after the massacre.Source: ThinkProgress

Take action

Several organizations are fundraising to support the survivors and victims’ families after the July 16 attack on two Chattanooga military sites.› To contribute to the Community Foundation 7-16 Freedom Fund, mail checks to 1270 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, and label the contribution “7-16 Freedom Fund” on the memo line of checks. You can also make a donation online at› To give to the National Compassion Fund Chattanooga, mail checks to the National Center for Victims of Crime at P.O. Box 360681, Pittsburgh, PA 1521-6681">1521-6681. Donations can also be submitted online by going to or by texting HOPE to 84465.

In an era of social media, mass killings can trigger a tidal wave of expressions of sorrow, attempts at analysis and calls for #strength.

Candlelight vigils and memorials and expressions of sympathy on Twitter and Facebook are well-meaning and can strengthen a community. But recently, some social critics argued such gestures can become what German Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace," or sympathy without the work of comforting. In the end, the public outpouring doesn't erase the shame a city might feel or the real pain the families are experiencing, say many who have lived through the cycle of periodic mass shootings.

Victims of mass shootings in other cities say survivors and the families of the dead may never truly recover. Yet, some cities have found a way to unite with the grieving to work toward positive, meaningful change.


No one knows that better than Kristina Anderson, who was a Virginia Tech sophomore sitting in French class when a gunman shoved past her professor before killing the teacher and several of Anderson's classmates.

Anderson hid under her desk, but the shooter found her, shot her twice in the back and once in the foot. Now 28, she's since learned to walk again and has created her own foundation to help campuses prevent violence.

She remembers the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting well.

"There are the mountains of flowers which, as silly as it may sound, are pretty colors and comforting," Anderson told the Times Free Press. "Then there are the piles of teddy bears and candles and posters and you start wondering about the poor person who has to clean this all up. It is a wonderful impulse for people to want to help. But I think it would be more helpful if they took the money spent on the street memorials and donated it to a medical fund for victims or a charitable foundation."

Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Victoria Soto stood between her pupils and the gunman who burst in her room in an effort to shield them. He killed her, 20 children and five other adults.

Po Murray, whose children attended the school, knew Soto.

"Newtown, Conn., is such a small community that I cannot drive out of my neighborhood without passing several houses where children lived who were killed in the shooting," said Murray, a physical therapist. "After the shooting, we had candlelight vigils and memorials. We wanted to do more."

Murray did not lose a child in the shooting, but she banded together with parents who did to create the Newtown Action Alliance, which supports gun safety legislation.

She candidly said that a parent whose child was killed may never heal completely. But he or she can find a way to live life meaningfully by channeling their grief into action they believe makes the world better.

Murray remembers when the alliance members visited then-Congressman Eric Cantor, R-Va., to push for legislative change. Tears filled his eyes when parents described how they got the news their children had been murdered. Yet, he wouldn't support the legislation they suggested. In the end, the bill, which called for better background checks for gun purchasers, didn't pass.

Still, Murray says the parents remain hopeful. Instead of considering it a depressing defeat, tragedy has taught them to cling to small victories. Even soliciting a true moment of empathy from a legislative opponent was considered a win by the group, from Murray's view.

On Thursday, a bipartisan bill the alliance supports was introduced in the U.S. Congress that would forbid anyone convicted of stalking or domestic violence from purchasing a gun. Another small, yet significant, win.

The same bill was championed by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during a meet and greet in Tuscon, Ariz., in 2011.

In Tuscon, six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl and 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, Giffords' community outreach director who worked with the homeless, often buying city bus passes for people with his own money so they could visit him from the shelter where they slept.

As ephemeral as grief expressed via social media can feel, it can result in powerful, almost redemptive action, the survivors of mass shootings say.

The shooting in Charleston, S.C., last month, in which a young white supremacist was arrested for killing nine church-goers attending Bible study at a historically black church, launched a visceral reaction that prompted South Carolina to bring down the Confederate flag, a long-standing and divisive symbol of the state's Southern identity.

A lesser-known event blossomed from social media fervor. After a Facebook effort called Unity for Peace began, 6,000 people of all races gathered on Charleston's Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge to join hands and demonstrate. The act evoked memories of the 1965 civil rights protesters who walked from Montgomery to Selma, Ala., over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Graphic artist Jae Donallason described the event in her Instagram postings.

"Every word in the English language falls short of describing what the people of Charleston did tonight," Donallason said. "On Thursday, we were divided. We were without hope. We were in agony and pain. Our people leaned on each other Tonight we gathered together to form a unity chain on the Ravenel Bridge. There were people as far as the eye could see cheering, clapping, laughing and singing as they walked."

The group wanted an end to racial divisiveness and prejudice, which has been bubbling to the surface as the deaths of unarmed blacks at the hand of police have sparked riots in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md.

In Aurora, Colo., where 12 people died after a gunman opened fire on a movie theater audience three years ago, Mayor Steve Hogan said the city turned a defunct public library building into a Resilience Center. Local health professionals donated their time to counsel anyone affected by the shooting for free.

They kept it open 24 hours a day for a year after the shooting, Hogan said.

People who had been at the theater that night and "didn't want to be alone could come to the center and volunteers would sit with them and keep them company," he said.

Hogan said he knew the first responders were traumatized by what they saw. Cellphones of the dead were continuing to riff, ring, chime and play snippets of songs, as EMS crews searched for the wounded.

"We thought it extremely important to have a public show of support for the survivors and families of the victims within 72 hours of the shooting," Hogan told the Times Free Press. "We held it in daytime, in the heart of the city, and 10,000 people showed up. This is a city that has always been thought of as a safe place to live, and we wanted an open gathering to help demonstrate that. And it was a place where people could share their grief as a community and comfort each other."


Dr. Roger Pitman, a Harvard Medical School professor and expert on post-traumatic stress disorder, believes it is inappropriate to equate a city's sadness with personal grief, as politicians and the media often do by saying the "city needs to heal."

"The families whose loved one was killed by the shooter, the wounded and the witnesses who were near the shooting definitely have the need to heal psychologically," Pitman said. "First responders can suffer PTSD. But a whole city cannot suffer PTSD. Even in a small town, people respond to a tragedy individually."

He is concerned about the media's mass coverage of tragedies, citing the annual blanket of homages, re-enactments and footage that envelop cable news on each anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"When one violent event is repeated endlessly on television, at some point, doesn't that feel as if it's presented as an entertainment?" he asked.

He believes raising money for the wounded and the survivors, like they have in so many cities that have experienced mass shootings, is a good way for a city's residents to bond. In Tucson, scholarships were named after Zimmerman, and the community raised money for the medical bills of survivors. They even recruited musicians like Neko Case to make a CD for the effort.

In Charleston, positive efforts by the community to support the loved ones of victims of racist violence are still unfolding. What happened in Charleston seems to Pitman to be more of a sociological phenomenon than psychological.

"For a community to come together and discuss and examine a crucial problem people were once too afraid or reluctant to discuss, that is beneficial," Pitman said.

Contact Lynda Edwards at (423) 757-6391 or ledwards@timesfree

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