The Ecology of the Mass Shooting of Children – reflections on Sandy Hook

Posted December 18th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Everything is interconnected. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything emerges from the whole. Nothing is created out of nothing. Energies interact, feed and feed on one another. Creation occurs out of the stuff it is given. Life evolves, it does not appear out of emptiness, out of nowhere and nothing. What has been leads to what is.

And so the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. If we want to understand at all what happened there, we have to look at the stuff from which the mass murder of little children emerged. Beyond Adam Lanza, beyond his mother Nancy who stored weapons, encouraged her sons to learn how to shoot, and is reported to have been paranoid and afraid of the intrusion of the outside world – beyond all that is the culture, the seething cultural pathology, the stuff from which a deeply troubled young man could commit an act of tremendous violence against the most innocent and vulnerable among us.

In the short span of a mid-morning in New England – 20 little kids shot multiple times with a popular semi-automatic rifle easily purchased in a paranoid, sick, gun-crazed culture, 6 heroic adults practiced in the sad drill our schools are forced to learn in the wake of previous horrific incidents, and a mother collecting guns for “self-protection” lying in a pool of her own blood, shot over and over again by her own son.

What have we become…?

Last Friday I sat down at my computer to write a different post. I turned on my TV mid-morning to catch the day’s headlines and heard the first reports that there had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Something about the way it was being reported told me that this was going to be bad. I sat riveted and, like so many of us, nearly paralyzed by what unfolded during the course of that day and the days that have followed, days of raging pain and grief.

And for all the shock of this one incident, I know that since Friday more children have been shot and killed around this nation in “lesser” acts of gun violence, other mothers, other lives sacrificed to the raging violence that lies at the heart of who we are as a nation.

Ana Marquez-Greene

But this sickness not only lies within the ecology of our personal relationships, not only within the ecology of poverty, racism, and despair in so many inner city or small rural communities. It lies not only in our gun shows and the fact that the country has more stores that sell guns than sell food, or that we have politicians who are puppets of the NRA and who then appoint judges who will do the bidding of the NRA – violating our most basic right to safety, even safety in our schools, for an interpretation of the Second Amendment that nearly all of us know, if we are honest, is erroneous at its core.

We know this, too: violence is how this nation was built. A drive across the lands of the Plains Wars, as I took some years back, reveals this stark reality that we would rather deny. Enough of telling only the story of the heroic and stoic pioneers!! We know the real story. We know that this nation spread itself across this land through horrific violence and built its economy in the early centuries on slave labor. If we had respected the people who were here before us, if we had actually paid human beings for their labor and treated them with dignity, we would never have created the powerhouse that this empire became in North America, giving us a leg-up to become a dominant force in the world.

Empires are not built by nice people, by the nonviolent, the peaceful, the generous and compassionate.

We know this – if we are honest with ourselves. We love gun violence; we have always loved gun violence. We have romanticized it in movies and TV shows from the time these things existed. We still do. We tolerate all of this under some awful ideology of our MORAL superiority. We do this while we go to church on Sunday and accept Jesus as our personal savior – JESUS!!! the antithesis of the violent impulse at the heart of the human being.

Benjamin Wheeler


This violence at the heart of the culture of the United States of America plays out far beyond our borders. One of the reasons I always end up frozen and traumatized by events like these is because I spent 24 years of my adult life dealing with the policies of my nation in Central America – decades of support for brutal dictatorships, teaching them the art of torture and repression (we did this, we trained them), pouring billions of dollars into the coffers of military and security forces that perpetrated massacres on unarmed civilian populations, disappeared thousands, committed untold numbers of assassinations.

I knew so many victims and their families. I knew people who were tortured, murdered, and/or disappeared. I wrote their stories, met their families, visited their communities. I know what this country was responsible for there.

And I worked in a city in which, during the 1980s and 90s, nearly every teenager going to school in DC had witnessed or lost friends to gun violence. Check out the streets of Chicago in recent years…

In the wake of President Obama’s deeply moving remarks at the interfaith vigil in Newtown, can we talk about his drones murders and his “kill list?” Can we talk about the children who have been the innocent victims of some of these strikes? Can we ask ourselves if we think this necessary to protect this nation from another 9/11?

And how many innocents are we willing to kill, how much targeted murder is okay, to give us this feeling of security?

Do we think we can kill our way into a world in which we US Americans become safe from all harm? Are ours the only innocent lives that matter?

Meanwhile, we endure 30,000 gun deaths every year – 10 times the death toll on 9/11!

Emilie Parker


Friends, this has to stop. Of course, everyone is saying that now, except the NRA which has gone silent (mercifully, but it won’t last). They even shut down their Facebook page in the wake of the flood of posts and comments vilifying the organization for the tremendous harm it has done to this nation – to our children.

It has to stop. So we will talk about sensible gun control, sensible restrictions on assault weapons and clips and ammunition purchases. And we will talk about mental health issues, especially as a way to isolate Adam Lanza from us, make him separate and aberrant. We will say it is not a good thing for the mentally ill to have easy access to weapons (wow, what an insight!!!!).

But unless we deal with some core beliefs about this nation, unless we deal with the very roots of the culture in which this love of violence and guns is deeply embedded, we will not get to the heart of the matter – because that is the fertilized, well-nurtured soil, in which acts like these are embedded.

Adam Lanza and his mother emerge from the ecology of this society. And that is why the shock and grief of this massacre strike at the very heart of us, yes, but so also does this violent act itself, for it is also an expression of the ecology of this society. It would be disingenuous to claim only the shock and grief, but not the violence that is its cause.

It has always been interesting to me that in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, the one in which I was raised, Christmas is followed quickly by the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Dec. 26) and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Herod (Dec 28). We love to claim the peaceful part of the story, the angels and shepherds and gifts of the magi, but we sure don’t like to claim the rest of it – that for all our cultural claims to be a “Christian” nation, leaving out all those millions of others not Christian, we have done a pretty good job of continuing the slaughter of the innocents, the killing or silencing of, or cultural disdain for those who try to live what is really there in that story. We love the beatitudes as platitudes. We leave out the woes.

So many Christians in this nation – locked and loaded.

Madeleine Hsu

As indication of just how deeply rooted this is – does anyone reading this really believe that this violence will end with the slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary School?

We are called to a tremendous work here – to alter the culture of this nation at its core, to overturn and reshape the very ecology in which we live and move and have our being. This will require a change in our lives in the most profound terms. We must redefine who we are as a people. We cannot live on the grandiose myths anymore, those narratives created to somehow justify ourselves. We have to come at this with truth and complete honesty. We have to claim not only the children and their teachers, but also the killer, as belonging to us, of the nature of who we are.

Obama came close to saying that the other night. But soon the voices of violence will recover and attempt once more to drown out the truth, to smother the debate. If we continue to let that happen, we will continue to have the blood of the innocents on our hands. What is required now is a fundamental remake of the culture of this nation – for the sake of the children.

Noah Pozner

The Names of the Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School

The children:

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

The staff:

Rachel Davino, 29
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27

May they all rest in peace, and may they not let us the living rest in peace.


 Photos of the children: Hartford Courant

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2 Responses

  1. Dick Westheimer

    THanks for you post, Margaret. I’ve waited each day since Friday to read what you would have to write. 100 Americans a day die from bullets. 10 of them children. 22 in one day in a quaint town is a shocker. And I have friends form that town whose lives are shattered. But since that day, 50 more American children and 450 adults have died by bullet. 50! 450!

    I heard a clip of Lyndon Johnson from 1968 lamenting that there were 160,000,000 guns in circulation in his day. Here we are 44 years later with 350,000,000 and many of those are now sophisticated killing machines. We are, as a people, obsessed.

    I’ve been in a discussion group with a “gun nut” and play music every Tuesday with a number of others and have learned so much. Some are interested in hunting. More are obsessed “protection.” But the largest are pre-occupied with defending themselves agains their government — our government — we the people. When I ask, what the government could do that would prompt armed insurrection, they answer” Taking my guns away. Nothing else comes close to the frequency with which I hear that response. It is the proverbial snake eating itself: We must have our guns so that no one can take away our…guns!

    Welcome to our country as it’s always been. I am forlorn.

  2. Margaret

    I am forlorn as well. The pathology runs deep, a river flowing through the heart of the culture. We drown in it and still try to act as if that is not the case. If there is such a thing as karma, this would be it.

    The healing required is so profound and the first step so daunting – to recognize the pathology, to name it within ourselves, to own up to it honestly. Until we do that, all the ‘fixes’ will be superficial.

    Frankly, as the world shifts more and more into chronic shock and trauma, from weather extremes, population stresses, etc., just thinking about those 300 million-plus weapons in the hands of our people ought to make us all give pause…

    We need one another in such times. Hang in there.