Gunfire resonates in Roswell in uncommon way - Albuquerque Journal

Gunfire resonates in Roswell in uncommon way

Today is Groundhog Day, the day each year when folklore traditions focus our attention on a rodent burrow in Pennsylvania to determine the spring weather forecast.

Groundhog Day is also, thanks to the Bill Murray movie of the same name, shorthand for experiencing the same thing – over and over and over.

Jan. 14 of this year was another Groundhog Day – another day, with another shooting at a school, somewhere in America. That it happened in Roswell made it feel like a punch to the gut, but, in the scheme of things, the 10 seconds of gunfire at Berrendo Middle School before the beginning of classes that day was nothing remarkable.

A 12-year-old took a shotgun loaded with three birdshot cartridges to school. He walked into the gym and fired once into the ceiling and once into the floor and then fired his last round toward students. He hit a girl in the arm and a boy in the face. When a teacher told him, “Put the gun down,” he did.

What has been remarkable is the reaction by the people of Roswell to being initiated into this most American of clubs.

"We as parents need to be more involved," Bert Sanders told reporters after his daughter, Kendal Sanders, was wounded by a shotgun blast at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell. At right is pastor Troy Smothermon of the Church on the Move in Roswell.(Courtesy Of KOAT-TV)
“We as parents need to be more involved,” Bert Sanders told reporters after his daughter, Kendal Sanders, was wounded by a shotgun blast at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell. At right is pastor Troy Smothermon of the Church on the Move in Roswell. (Courtesy of KOAT-TV)

Bert Sanders’ 13 year-old daughter was hit in the arm and spent nearly a week in a hospital in Lubbock. When she went home, Sanders faced news reporters. He called for more prayer in the schools but made it clear he would not be a soldier for the political measures that often find wings after a school shooting – arming teachers, installing metal detectors, restricting firearms.

Instead, he said he didn’t hold anyone to blame.

“Not the teachers. Not the schools,” Sanders said. “The responsibility is ours. We as parents need to be more involved.”

Troy Smothermon is the senior pastor at the Church on the Move in Roswell, and he’s a neighbor of the Campbell family, whose son, Mason, the young shooter, is now in the Chaves County Juvenile Detention Center while his criminal prosecution moves forward.

Although Roswell is the fifth-largest city in New Mexico, it is still a small town. Smothermon, the Campbells’ neighbor, is pastor to the families of both victims.

Smothermon also stepped back from the script that is a common response to these Groundhog Day events. He didn’t speak of the danger of video games or rap music or other evils of the secular world.

Instead, he spoke about boys and their emotions and about what passes for masculinity in this country and asked for the focus to lie there.

“There’s a lot of problems we need to deal with as a nation and as a community,” Smothermon said, “and we’re not addressing those issues properly and we need to readdress them. We need to teach kids to handle situations differently, and we’re not doing it. It’s not working. It’s obvious it’s not working.

He went on: “It’s these young boys that are doing it, and as men, we need to address it. Men need to get involved, and we need to address this issue and put a stop to it. I mean, how many of these do we have to do?”

The preacher spoke the plain truth.

It’s young men who are shooting up schools, not young women. Most recently, in Nevada and now in New Mexico, they have been middle school boys whose actions come as a surprise to everyone.

Every school shooting has two necessary elements: the shooter and the gun. People don’t get shot without guns, and statistics confirm that households with guns have a higher risk for suicide and homicide. But the gun without the angry, sad or confused young man who thinks it’s his only option stays in the closet.

Mason Campbell, a devoted fan of rapper Eminem, discovered a different type of music a few months ago – R.E.M. He posted the band’s wrenching ballad “Everybody Hurts” on his Instagram account and said “this really spoke to me.”

Anger, sadness, loneliness, confusion, alienation, frustration. Everybody hurts. In middle school and high school, that hurt can feel especially crushing.

And Smothermon is right when he says boys don’t have good models for what to do with those feelings. They do have good role models for how to shoot guns.

Roswell, on the map mostly for space aliens before the Berrendo shooting, has the chance to change its legacy. It can become the place where people responded to a school shooting with intelligence, nuance and grace and where they took the time to recognize, understand and work to soften the swirling emotions that bring a young man’s finger to the trigger.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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