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Kirk Kovach: School shootings are part of American ‘normal’

By Kirk Kovach

The Greeks were obsessed with heroes.

Ancient Greeks believed that heroes were a special race of men and women, somehow infused with character and attributes far exceeding the ability of the common man.

But those are myths, not based in the lived experiences endured by real human beings.

Howell was a hero. It’s a word we toss around with little thought about what it really means. When a fellow student in his UNC Charlotte classroom began to shoot at others, Riley took action. In the end, he was shot three times, the final bullet entering his brain and killing him.

Riley is a hero because his actions prevented the deaths of untold numbers of his peers. He is a hero because he put the safety of himself second to the safety of those around him. He is a hero because he acted in a way that many of us hope that we might, but pray that we never have to. The tragedy at UNC Charlotte is, sadly, far too common. Our shock is not from it occurring, but because it finally happened close to home.

Many of my friends went to UNC Charlotte, and plenty more still do.

To think something so devastating happened on their campus is difficult to fathom.

Just Tuesday, another school shooting took place in Colorado. This time, it was not college students who could try to protect themselves; it was a shooting at a STEM school that included children so young they barely knew what was happening. The New York Times article about the shooting quotes Makai Dixon who is 8 years old and in the second grade: “I heard a gunshot,” Makai said. “I’d never heard it before.”

The article noted that, though only in the second grade, Makai had been training for active shooter drills since kindergarten. This is our normal, and it isn’t new. Colorado was also home to Columbine, a turning point 20 years ago. Those who lived through it had to acclimate themselves to a new America; those like Makai who are just beginning their education have never known otherwise.

There will be arguments made, mostly fruitless, about policy prescriptions and why this is a uniquely American phenomenon. What we can do, though, what I can do, is emphasize the humanity of these events.

Too often, stories about shootings fixate on numbers: the dead, the injured, the guns, the bullets. But numbers mean nothing without their proper context.

These are events that affect so many people, and end the lives of others. The only way to take any solace in tragedy is to highlight the lives lost, not just the final seconds of their time here but the entirety of their existence.

On Sunday, friends, families and everyday people gathered at a sanctuary in Lake Junaluska to remember the life that Riley lived.

He was given the full treatment a hero deserves. Riley was a cadet in the ROTC while at UNC Charlotte, and he was buried with full military honors. It was a fitting sendoff and well-deserved honor.

Kirk Kovach is a Rowan County native who contributes to politicsnc.com.

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