Another mass shooting took place in Florida last week, though the story was a relative blip in the national news stream.
Apparently, bigger things were happening.
Trump and Pelosi were fussing about his State of the Union speech. Rudy Giuliani was blubbering like your confused uncle who keeps misplacing his meds.
And one of the freakishly fertile Kardashians announced that – brace yourself — she’s preggo again.
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Mass shootings occur so often that it’s hard to keep up. Is it still major news when a whack job with a gun walks into a small-town bank and executes five innocent people?
God help us if this is what we’ve become — numb to homegrown slaughter, unless the body count hits double digits.
The shootings at a SunTrust branch in Sebring happened midday Wednesday, and by Friday the story was already fading. If you lived anywhere but Florida, you had to hunt for a follow-up.
Here’s what is known:
At 12:37 p.m., a 911 dispatcher in Highlands County got a call from a man saying he’d just shot everyone inside the bank. He hadn’t. One worker escaped through a back door.
Armed with a 9mm handgun, the shooter was barricaded in the building. The standoff ended after an armored police vehicle broke down the bank doors. A SWAT team entered and soon emerged with a blank-faced suspect.
He is Zephen Xaver, age 21, who recently moved to Sebring from Indiana. Authorities said he’d been training to be a state corrections officer but resigned a few weeks ago. They said he’d had no disciplinary issues.
As of this writing, the motive for the attack hasn’t been disclosed. A family friend told Fox 13 News that Xaver was “normal” and “well-mannered.”
Others who knew him had a different impression. The Washington Post found a woman who said that she’d dated him, and that he had a “fascination with death.” The woman said she’d met him in a psychiatric facility in Indiana.
Another national shrug, right? A young white male with possible mental problems easily gets his hands on a firearm and goes on a killing spree.
We know the basic script, always baffling and infuriating. The key variable is the number of victims — the higher the death toll, the longer we pay attention.
That’s how the media play mass-shooting stories these days, by the numbers. It both reflects and reinforces a collective state of resignation, as if we’re all too weary to be outraged.
Unless you happen to know someone who gets murdered.
Last summer, my brother Rob was killed on the job, at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. Some guy with an old grudge against the paper charged into the newsroom with a shotgun and started firing.
Including Rob, the final death count was five — the same toll as the Sebring killings last week. However, the Capital Gazette tragedy got much more time on cable news and the networks because the shooter had targeted journalists.
My brother would want me to write, in the strongest words, that what happened at the SunTrust bank is every bit as horrifying, heartbreaking and newsworthy as what happened in his newsroom in Annapolis.
In a twisted way, the Florida dateline might have blunted the shock of last week’s crime. We live in a notorious firing range, the Gunshine State, where the rush of blood-splattered headlines seldom lets us catch our breath.
Forty-nine dead at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Seventeen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. Five in the baggage-claim area at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Five more at an RV awning factory in Orlando. Another five wounded, two killed at a Tallahassee yoga studio. Two more at a video-game tournament in Jacksonville.
The list of ordinary places we and our loved ones aren’t safe from random gun violence keeps growing, not only here but all over the country — churches, temples, synagogues, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, colleges, shopping malls, Walmarts, dance clubs, country music concerts, airports, even freaking yoga studios. . . .
The Sebring shooter chose a bank not far from where he lived. Busy street, broad daylight.
His victims were one customer and four employees, all women. They’d thought they were safe. In a sane world, they would have been.
True, it’s just one more replay of a familiar societal horror, a prelude to the inevitable next mass shooting.
Yet even though the toll this time didn’t reach double digits, every crime like this deserves more than a resigned shrug or a grim shake of the head. Ask the many families, including mine, who will be haunted by these headlines forever.
The story isn’t the number of coffins. The story is the monstrous act itself, and why it keeps happening over and over.