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Four Madison/Dane County Murders, What Is Happening To Us?

December 4, 2009

Thursday had seemed to me a day when the holiday mood across the City of Madison was increasing.  As Christmas tree lights twinkled the first real snow of the season fell to the ground.  The Wisconsin State Journal had published a picture of the Holiday Tree at the Statehouse in their morning paper, and shoppers were in a more spirited mood in the stores with colder temperatures helping to create the feeling for purchasing gifts.  It all seemed so right.

Then came the news over our television stations Thursday night that left the City of Madison and Dane County limp.  Four of our fellow citizens, two mothers, and two children were each shot and killed over the span of a few hours.  In an instant the glow from the wintery day was reduced to shock, anger, fear, sadness, and a deep questioning of what is happening to our city, county, and our fellow citizens. 

We hear often that the fabric of society is being tattered and frayed, with added pressures and heightened anxieties making people stressed and vulnerable to the point where rage can turn to violence.   We hear about the growing level of drug use and alcohol addiction in our society.  We read about the latest reports that show poverty plays a role in some truly awful behavior.  And yet tonight as I sit in a nearly darkened house except for the lamp light at my desk, and think of the young victims being  2-3 years old, the ‘psychobabble’ that often passes for reasoned discourse just does not wash with me.  I truly want to latch onto something so to give order to what happened tonight, but can find none.  In the end there can be no excuse, no logic, no rational motive, no need to search for deeper mysteries about the killer’s supposedly troubled childhood or anguishing life as an adult, two often cited sources of trying to explain deplorable behavior. 

I would like to feel more ‘enlightened’ tonight about how we need to strive to find the lost among us in society and bring them in off the edge of the cliff, but after all the money we spend on countless programs at every level I am not sure we are winning the battle.   There are two little girls, and their moms who prove we are not making enough of a difference.

Many years ago I worked for a non-profit in Madison where we set up mentors with troubled young teenagers in an effort to steer them to a more productive path of living.  It was important then, and still is.  But as I get older and more seasoned it appears to me that the problems are larger, the numbers of people in need ever-increasing, and the ability of programs to make a true difference limited for a variety of reasons.  I know that if we reach kids at a certain age we can alter their lives and structure their behavior to meet social expectations.   But tonight I am thinking even without such help how can anyone become an adult and turn a gun on a young child and fire?  Are some among us so lost that even with all the tools and resources they can never be brought in off the edge of the cliff?

I know over the next several days there will be a flurry of news stories and front page coverage of these murders.  And I know that at some point soon thereafter the story will sift away and the rest of life will take over the headlines.  And yet there will be four people, and a killer who will leave me questioning what is happening to our society.

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