Columbine was a parent’s nightmare. It didn’t matter where you lived. It brought the “real” world into that safe haven every parent thought they sent their children to each day – school.
Virginia Tech was worse than a nightmare. I had problems with this tragedy, even though I am now living in upstate New York and hadn’t been to the campus in 20 years, because I could place the scene. I had been there. I had stayed on that campus as a college student, visiting friends. I knew the places that were spoken of on news coverage – the dorms, the classroom buildings.
Yesterday, a mass shooting came to my home town, not the one I live in or grew up in but the largest city in our area. This was not the first shooting in Binghamton. There have been others – Lee Barta, a Binghamton police officer, in 1994 immediately comes to mind. There have never been any as senseless nor as massive as yesterday’s tragic events.
The shootings took place at the American Civic Association on Front Street in Binghamton. This is a place my 18 year old son goes for swing dancing at times. This is a location that my daughter drives by constantly to get from her apartment to her classes at the local community college. This is a location that my son, when he is in town doing an audit, works spitting distance from. This is a location that hits home, not just because it is in the area but because we use this building.
On first hearing that there was a shooting and hostage event in Binghamton, I immediately went into “mom” mode. I have a 20 year old daughter who lives in Binghamton. Where was she? She would travel the street in front of the location of the shooting going to and from classes at Broome Community College. What was her class schedule today? Technology cleared these questions up quickly. I sent her an IM on her cell phone. She had driven by the American Civic Association a little after 10 am. From the scene she remembers, my guess is it was close to 10:30. There were a ton of cars, as she put it, both regular and police but she was allowed to drive on Front Street. She was now at a friend’s home on the Southside of the city, nowhere near Front Street.
I quickly logged onto the local newspaper’s web site. My father having worked for the paper for 43 years, it is always the first place I turn for information. Pressconnects.com already had a live blog/chat going. People listening to scanners were posting information. People living or working nearby were posting information. High school students from Binghamton High School were posting information.
There were injured. There were dead. There was still a shooter to be found. Reports were not clear on numbers – a normal issue in mass casualties. Reports were not clear on motive – an issue that will most likely take days, if not weeks, to untangle.
Local television channels were carrying on with their daytime programming. One channel was running a streaming text message at the bottom of the screen but no cutting into “The Price Is Right.” Pressconnects.com was the place to be for ongoing information. News 10 Now had reporters on the scene.
Soon, national news picked up the tragedy. Still no numbers. Still no shooter. Still no motive. A new angle, though, emerged as the national cable news networks called in all kinds of experts from former FBI negotiators to people who have dealt with other mass casualty incidents.
I called my son in Syracuse. Had this happened a week later, he would have been auditing Broome County Department of Social Services. He would have been locked in a building where the shooter could see the building and anyone near a window in it. He couldn’t believe this sort of thing happened in Binghamton.
I quickly IM’d both my twins who are at colleges in western NY. News like this, even though it did not directly effect anyone we know – to the best of my knowledge at this moment, the twins would want to hear this from me, not from the television. My daughter was near her computer and we IM’d for a bit as she asked questions and turned on the national news. My son was in class and IM’d me when he was out, wanting details.
Then, something clicked inside. It hit me. One month ago yesterday, my father had died. This was the first big local news story that he was not around for. He would have been there. His beat was the local police and fire departments. He would have been standing in the middle of it all, working his sources in all three police agencies that initially responded.
Later that evening, as I sat in the Maine-Endwell High School auditorium awaiting the spring theatre production, I was speaking with my younger sister. She had been on the phone when she was told of the shootings. She also had the thoughts of Dad.
Yesterday, Binghamton made international headlines. Binghamton became the center of the United States for a brief period of time. This infamy will last forever but will serve only to bring the community together. We will grieve together and we will survive together.