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opened fire in the LDS Family History Library 17 years ago, and De Kieu Duy, the young woman who opened fire in a lobby of the Triad Center that same year, only a few floors below where I am writing this. Each was stopped after a few casualties, but that doesn’t erase the intent.
By now, Americans everywhere must know there is no known vaccine against such terror. Only fools utter the words, “It can’t happen here.”
The nation is beginning to view mass murders the way it does air disasters. We pause to feel sympathy and agonize with the survivors, then let the experts deal with lessons learned and precautions to take as we resume our lives and keep flying.
There are two main differences, however. Flying is getting safer; air disasters are down considerably from the days of my youth. And investigators almost always can identify the causes of a plane crash, whether it’s pilot error or something mechanical.
Mass murders, however, are on the rise, especially in the United States, and they seldom leave us with tangible causes, at least not any that rational people can understand.
Was Mateen a terrorist? ISIS seemed more than happy to claim him, but investigators so far haven’t found anything real to connect the two. What they have found is a jumble of contradictions, the same thing they apparently found twice before when they investigated complaints about his behavior. As various news outlets reported Tuesday, Mateen had expressed sympathy for the Boston Marathon bombers, but they belonged to an Al Qaida affiliate at odds with ISIS. He also once claimed to belong to Hezbollah, and to having relatives in Al Qaida. All three oppose each other.
His father suggested Mateen hated gay people, and yet he apparently frequented the club where he perpetrated his crime, and often used a gay dating app. Mentally ill? He wasn’t diagnosed.
And yet, even if a direct tie were found to ISIS, would that provide a satisfying answer? Would it explain how a human being could callously murder so many? Weighed against such a gruesome act, reasons, even deep-seated hatreds, settle nothing.
They never have. The list of such crimes has become so long that Americans long ago forgot the killing that, until Sunday, was likely one of the deadliest crimes of the last century. On May 18, 1927, carefully laid sticks of dynamite exploded in the basement of a school in Bath, Mich., killing 38 children and five adults.
The perpetrator, Andrew Kehoe, was the school treasurer, and he reportedly was angry about taxes levied to build the school. He also had his own money problems. He killed his wife and burned his farm before blowing up the school, then killed himself in a second blast.
“Madman” is how the New York Times described him back then. It was, perhaps, accurate, but the description is no more satisfying 89 years later than it must have been then.
This week, the L.A. Times quoted FBI Director James B. Comey as saying, “We hope that our fellow Americans will not let fear become disabling.” This, he said, “is what these savages want.”
Setting aside what “savages” may want, Comey is right about fear. Various people have tried to calculate your odds of dying in such a crime. The answers are nearly always somewhere near infinitesimal. Your odds of dying in a more conventional murder are higher, but not much. Your odds of dying in a plane crash are a scant 1 in 11 million. You should be more afraid of respiratory infections.
That won’t stop the politicians and pundits peddling cures.
But it also doesn’t absolve us from searching for answers, as well as warning signs. We may never understand how some humans can be so inhumane. That doesn’t make Orlando, Salt Lake or any of the other mass-murder sites any less horrifying or mystifying, or any less worthy of our compassion, grief and attention.
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Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist of the Deseret News. He has nearly 40 years experience as a reporter, editor and editorial writer in Oklahoma, New York City, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. He also has been an adjunct journalism professor at Brigham Young and Weber State universities.