Life goes on

Planks for the memories.

It was about 6 p.m. today, and I was returning from a decidedly somber event (viewed from a distance) – the wake for a 16-year-old girl who had been shot to death in one of those senseless slaughters you read/hear about in other places far, far away but not here, except this one was here.

I did not know her, or any of the other victims who were shot to death in a killing spree that lasted  less than 10 minutes, but you don’t have to know them to have been affected by such a shocking turn of events. I was there as an observer, keeping a respectful distance, to report the facts of the event and retreat back into my little life across town.

On the way back home I happened to notice two teenage boys in a parking lot near the intersection where my car idled as I waited for the light to change.

One of the kids climbed onto a utility box, about 10 feet high, and “assumed the position.” He and his buddy were laughing and I shouted out the window, “You planking?”  He and his buddy laughed and I started digging for the camera, yelling, “do it!” and just as the light turned green I snapped the shot.

My first spontaneous planking.

Even as we’re engulfed in the saddest moments of our lives, life goes on. Amid sorrow, there is joy. The world doesn’t stop. It waits for nobody. This thought occurs to me every time I see a funeral procession plod through traffic, holding up the busy folk nearby from going about their busy ways, if only for a few moments, before lurching back into motion.

I’m not one to get into “God’s will” and that sort of stuff, but sometimes you have to wonder why of all times I’d run across this little moment. And I wonder if anyone else at the intersection of Merriman Road and Portage Path noticed at about 6 p.m. on a Thursday in August that two young guys were having a goof on an electric box just for the hell of it, and got a good laugh out of it.

Still smiling.

My first mass-murder scene

The calls and emails starting pouring in shortly after noon on Sunday. Reports of gunshots fired near Copley Township, a mostly sleepy community outside of Akron, sandwiched among Fairlawn, Bath Township and other Akron suburbs. Initial reports from a couple of my editors was that there had been a shooting incident at the Fairlawn Swim and Tennis Club on Ridgewood near Schocalog. And off I went.

All's quiet at the swim and tennis club.

I stopped at the Swim and Tennis club, expecting to see stretches of yellow tape and crowds gathered around the chain link fence. Instead there were five cars in the parking lot, including mine, and less than a dozen people at the pool. No crime scene. One lady there said she hadn’t heard a thing.

Then Kymberli Hagelberg had an update: The scene was on Schocalog, but over by Copley Road, more than a mile away. Four, possibly five had been shot. I came across at Bath Township police officer manning one of the roadblocks and asked if there had been gunfire and how bad was it. It’s bad, he replied, and shied away from my camera. He directed me to the other side of the roadblock where authorities planned a media staging ground (insert eye-roll here).

That initial report was a mile or two off target. I hesitate here, thinking “target” is a poor word choice given the events that unfolded, but maybe it should stay. What happened amounted to a cruel, psychotic round of target practice.

Apparently, one man came unhinged and, with two .45-caliber handguns (including one he bought just last week), went on a crazed shooting spree that left seven innocent people dead and then he was shot by police. It all went down in about 10 minutes. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop.

SWAT and uniform police gathered after the carnage in Copley had ended Sunday.

I ran into some old friends and former colleagues from the Beacon Journal, Jim Carney and Karen Schiely, near the media “staging” area, but most of us hung out near the barricades hoping to get a glimpse of what was going on. A couple of media types said they heard four dead. Five dead. Police uniforms and plain clothes from Copley, Bath, Akron and Summit County Sheriff’s office were all over the place. Then the CSI truck rolled in. That was all I needed to see to know that this was a major crime scene (watch enough crime drama?). Then someone shouted “Here comes the bus!” It was an RV with “Mobile Command Center” inscribed on the side. People caught in the traffic jam creeping by kept asking, “What happened? What’s going on?”  I started saying, “We don’t know,” though we actually had a pretty good idea.

Roger Sommer and Kymberli arrived separately at the scene and Roger tried some back road looks at the scene while I hung out awaiting the chief of Copley to issue a public statement.

More media gathered, lots of tripods and TV crews, and they started setting up camp along the roadside by the barricades, across the street from the designated media “staging area.” What can I say, organizing reporters is like trying to herd cats. Good luck with that.

Roger came back from his scouting trip with news that he whispered to me: Eight dead. He had managed to talk to some witnesses at and near the crime scene. One of them, who was too rattled to talk to him, had barely escaped with her life.

Copley Police Chief Mike Mier.

Copley Chief Mike Mier finally came to the makeshift press conference and told us a few bare-bones facts: Eight dead, including the suspected gunmen, spread out over four crime scenes on Goodenough and Schocalog, and one shooting victim hospitalized in intensive care.

As  is often the case with breaking news, the facts were still a little dicey and new information seemed to materialize every five minutes – the tricky part is discerning what is reliable information and what is speculation, rumor or wild conjecture. The number of victims at each “crime scene” as well as the number of crimes scenes changed as more reports poured in. Was it a domestic dispute gone wildly out of control? A dispute with a neighbor? Was the shooter known to the victims? Did the shootings occur inside the houses or out? Both?

Slowly, the awful truth unfolded: Three of the shooting victims were kids, including two students at Copley High School. They were in a parked car.  The killer chased an 11-year-old boy, the nephew of the killer’s girlfriend, cornered him in a neighbor’s basement and shot him in cold blood.

A SWAT team, a CSI team and hordes of other law enforcement teams swarmed the area but the carnage ended almost as quickly as it began: A responding Copley officer was joined by a neighboring former Copley cop and the Copley cop took the gunman out. The killer was later identified as Michael Hance, a Goodenough Avenue resident.

We’ll spend the next few months trying to make sense of something that inherently cannot make sense. Why did all those people have to die at the hands (and guns) of some guy described as a bid of an oddball who at the particular moment went off the deep end? Who is to blame? And then the what-ifs will turn up. What if one teenage girl had not been visiting her friend at the time? Might they both have somehow avoided the carnage?

I can only imagine what the survivors of this must be experiencing, just as on Sunday afternoon I could only imagine what had happened on Goodenough and Schocalog. And then I knew. I wish I didn’t.

Crisis? What crisis?

The above headline was the name of an album by Supertramp, a fairly popular ’70s pop-rock group (Wikipedia called it “progressive rock,” which seems a bit of a stretch). The joke title referred (or so I thought) to an entirely different sort of crisis or set of crises – you had the energy crisis, with cars lined up around blocks waiting to gas up and pay a buck a gallon, outrageous at the time; you had the ever-brewing Cold War with the sting of defeat in Vietnam still fresh; you had Nixon embroiled in scandal and resigning in shame; you had pollution, and so on.

This time around we’re trying to recover from a the Great Recession and now 3-year-old financial debacle largely of our own doing in real estate and finance/banking/insurance; we just inched back from the edge of defaulting on our national debt this week; we still have stubbornly high unemployment, a fact that remains acutely painful to many Americans. We have ever-more strident opposing sides squabbling over whether raising taxes or cutting costs deeper and deeper is the solution to the federal deficit and debt, etc.

It all seems a tad forced. Contrived. Of course I’m not the first to notice this. We’ve heard “manufactured crisis” and similar phrases popping up a lot lately in the news. A little less shouting at the camera and a little more cooperation could fix a lot of these things. But that would be too simple. Nobody wants to be seen as ceding any ground. At all. The accursed media continue to look for “winners” and “losers” amid the brokering over this latest calamity-to-be. The media tend to serve as enablers for shouting heads who are looking for the most “did she really say that?” sound bite.  All parties involved seem more interested in protecting their interests than solving problems and making this country a better place for everybody. And the discourse just seems to be getting worse and worse. We don’t talk to or with one another. We shout at one another.

CEOs and billionaires and big corporations are doing GREAT! They’re making money by the bucketful. The rest of us? Eh, not so much.

Conservatives complain that the liberals want to “redistribute wealth” as if it’s a bad thing. Hell, the rich have been doing it for 30 years! Look at the stats. The rich have grown increasingly rich with the middle class and underclass falling further and further behind. The middle class continues to shrink. That’s redistribution of wealth – it’s trickling up, not down.

Can you blame the rich for wanting to keeps what’s “theirs”? Well, not really. I bet even your garden-variety limousine liberal doesn’t want to get too carried away with all this “crazy talk” of goosing the tax rate on the rich to 50 percent or more. Why, that would kill my dream of a third home in the Hamptons. Where will I store my yacht?

Of course the conservatives don’t trust Obama – that socialist nouveau riche kid from Kenya.* He simply doesn’t belong, as Judge Smails would have said in Caddyshack.

A few among the super rich – Warren Buffett and Bill Gates come to mind – are putting their billions toward improving the world, but too many of them haven’t asked themselves, How much is enough?

Me, I’d settle for an even billion. I think I could live on that. I might even become a “job creator.”

* This is a joke, of course. Obama isn’t from Kenya. He’s from Indonesia.