Dear Sutherland Springs,
It’s hard to find the right words for what you have been through, because there are none. The pain you feel now isn’t going away anytime soon. Charleston can only send its condolences, its sympathy and its understanding.
Because we’ve been there.
On June 17, 2015, a troubled young man walked into Emanuel AME, one of our most historic churches, and gunned down nine innocent souls.
On Sunday, a troubled young man walked into your First Baptist Church with a semi-automatic rifle and killed 26 people. Another 20 were injured, many seriously.
This is a tragedy that will shape you for years to come. It’s been two years since our church shooting, and many of us still think about our lost friends and family every day. No doubt it will be the same for you.
You have seen the worst of humanity; now you will see the best. Your town will be showered with good wishes and flowers and stuffed animals and messages of love.
It helps, a little.
But you will also be inundated with outsiders for weeks, at least until another madman with a gun kills innocent people elsewhere. It will happen, because this country allows it.
Journalists will come to tell your story to the world. Sometimes it helps to talk about the ones you lost. Other times you’ll just want to grieve alone.
There also will be activists, opportunists and charlatans trying to co-opt the tragedy for their own political purposes. Some will point to Sutherland Springs as another example of why we need stricter gun control.
As if we need more examples.
Others will argue the opposite, that things would have gone differently if the congregation had been armed. Of course, those people will also tell you this isn’t a gun issue, it’s a mental illness problem — and then repeal laws that keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of unstable people.
Those are usually the ones who send the rote, almost callous “thoughts and prayers.”
The authorities say race and religion played no role in this massacre, and that may spare you some of the divisive politics tearing this country apart. Those people will probably wait for the next tragedy, because they know it will come.
This is one of the deadliest years for gun violence this country has seen, outside of war. After all, it’s barely been a month since Las Vegas.
That's what you will become. Mass shootings are so common now that they're reduced to shorthand: Las Vegas, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Dallas, Orlando, Nashville, Chattanooga. Charleston. You have joined a terrible list that grows by the month.
Your loss is unbearable, and just so utterly senseless. The police believe a domestic dispute triggered this domestic terrorism, and that’s what it is. Don’t let anyone mince words. He killed people simply because he could, and there is nothing more terrifying than that.
The man who killed our nine should not have been allowed to buy a gun, and your gunman shouldn’t have, either. In both cases, neglected paperwork allowed a person with serious issues to get his hands on firearms.
That makes this even worse, if that’s possible, because it didn’t have to happen. But then, the same politicians who say an ex-con shouldn’t have his voting rights restored will nonetheless fight for his right to buy guns. Perhaps because they are bought and paid for by the gun industry.
It was clear nothing would change after a man shot up an elementary school full of kids in Connecticut. If our politicians wouldn't do anything for children, they aren't going to do anything now.
Mind you, this isn’t about handguns or hunting guns — this is about weapons good for slaughtering dozens of people at once. These are guns of war, not sportsmanship or home defense. An entire congregation with firearms would have been hard-pressed to stop a man who fired 450 rounds in a matter of minutes, not without some casualties. And one is too many.
But in this country, the right to own such a weapon trumps the rights of others to live. We are so sorry this tragedy has proven that once again.
There's nothing to say that can make this any better, nothing to soothe that ache deep in the heart of Texas. All we can offer is sympathy and empathy without agenda from a community that understands.
Charleston knows what you've been through, and we wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.