Thoughts and prayers,thoughts and prayers
by David Benjamin
“In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
— Dan Hodges
PARIS — Eighteen years ago, in the innocent early days of America’s mass-shooting fad, I realized that atrocities like Devin Kelley’s church slaughter in Sutherland Springs, and Stephen Paddocks’ turkey shoot in Vegas were destined to descend into dreary routine, relegated to the back pages, or even the “Style” section, of our major news organs.
Concerned that outfits like the New York Times and the Associated Press would steer their crack reporters away from the dog-bites-man chronicling of infants, moms, priests and country music fans sprawled dead in an ocean of their own blood, I designed a “template” — each paragraph a discrete plug-in module — for cub reporters and newspaper interns to record these quotidian incidents both professionally and thoroughly.
With recent advances in firepower and a political climate that encourages Americans to hate, insult, shout down, abuse and shoot one another, massacres have escalated in frequency, firepower and gore. In only the last month, lone maniacs wielding more ordnance than the average Army platoon have reduced the surplus population by at least 85 souls. One of the dead was 18 months old.
So, in keeping with these parlous times, my revised 21st-century, one-size-fits-all template for stories from the gun-nut bloodbath beat…
(ANYTOWN, U.S.A.) — Parents, police and local officials in this leafy suburb of (INSERT name of major urban center) are searching their souls and asking “Why?” after a furious fusillade of bullets fired by a frenzied schoolboy/middle-aged gunman/disgruntled veteran) into a crowded (playground/ cafeteria/ concert/ nightclub/ municipal swimming pool/ maternity ward) killed (BODY COUNT) unsuspecting (parishioners/ concertgoers/ toddlers/ etc.) and injured another (BODY COUNT). Among the wounded, (BODY COUNT) remain in critical condition in area hospitals.
In this grisly reprise of similar shootings in Connecticut, Wisconsin, California, Las Vegas, Texas and (ADD ONE, ADD SEVERAL — WHATEVER), the (teenage/ reclusive/ dishonorably discharged) assailant’s name has been withheld while police and the FBI search for possible accomplices. The killer used a semi-automatic weapon modified for automatic firing to spray more than (100/ 200/ 500) bullets per minute into his terrified victims. According to early reports, the murderer obtained his weaponry from (his father's gun case/ a mail order catalog/ a gun show/ Santa Claus).
“It sounded like firecrackers,” said one witness. “But then I saw people falling down, and bleeding. So I ducked. But they got my best friend, (NAME). (He/ she) died right beside me. There was nothing I could do.”
A courageous bystander (NAME), who returned to the scene of the shooting (NUMBER) times to lead victims and drag the injured to safety despite being wounded, said, “It was like (a slaughterhouse/ a battlefield/ Toys R Us on Black Friday). There was blood everywhere. My shoes are ruined.”
(Relatives of the dead and wounded/ Parents of children who attended the school) rushed panic-stricken to the scene, struggling to break through police lines and seek out their loved ones. Those who found them unharmed hugged and kissed them gratefully. Others were cruelly disappointed.
(Schoolmates/ Roommates/ Bunkmates/ Ex-wives/ Acquaintances) of the assailant, who was surrounded by police and (shot himself rather than face arrest/ died in a hail of bullets/ threw himself from the roof after exhausting his ammunition) expressed shock and dismay. “He was a quiet guy. Nobody got to know him real well. He helped me (carry my groceries/ trim my roses/ walk my beagle),” said a neighbor.
“He was a little odd,” said a (classmate/ neighbor/ drill instructor. cellmate, ex-wife), “always listening to that music by (The Dead Kennedys/ Led Zeppelin/ Nicki Minaj/ Brad Paisley/ Benny Goodman). But he’d say ‘hi’ in passing. He got along pretty good with (the landlady/ the mailman/ the Mexican gardener, his parole officer). He never acted like anything was wrong, y’know?”
The killer had been heard to complain bitterly about (NAME of minority group, gender, nationality, age group, sport, school clique, political faction, etc.)
Police who searched the killer’s home found no note about his plans to carry out his attack. They did, however, find a huge collection of (violent video games/ Hong Kong martial arts movies/ hardcore pornography/ dehydrated road kill/ Game of Thrones action figures). Police also seized his (diary/ computer/ /smartphone/ kid sister), in hopes of finding a clue to his actions.
In his (basement/ attic/ rumpus room/ garage/ man cave), police also discovered an arsenal — including pistols, rifles, hand grenades, explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition — extensive enough to fully arm (the Los Angeles Police Department/ a large National Guard unit/ France).
The shooter apparently obtained his weapons despite (a juvenile record for torching cats and torturing first-graders/ several arrests for domestic violence against his wife and children/ repeated incarcerations in mental health facilities/ problems holding a job because of a fondness for strangling fellow workers).
A prominent psychologist, (NAME), contacted about this latest explosion of senseless violence, noted that, without specific information about the accused mass murderer, “I couldn't begin to diagnose the cause” of the incident. (He/ she) added, however, “(INSERT COPIOUS PSYCHOBABBLE).”
The shooter’s mother expressed disbelief over her son’s rampage. She said, tearfully, (“He was a sweet, quiet boy who never gave me a minute’s worry. There must be some mistake. He could never do such a thing.”/ “I haven’t talked to him in years. He never got along with his stepfather and he never, ever called his mother. Why?”/ “I’m a little embarrassed about all those people he injured. If I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a thousand times: ‘Shoot to kill!’”)
Speaking on behalf of gun-control activists, (Sen. Chuck Schumer/ Sen. Elizabeth Warren/ retired astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of gunshot victim and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords) said, "Our hearts go out to the victims and parents stricken by this unspeakable outrage, and our hopes go out that Congress will finally get off (the dime/ their fat butts) and do something to get these weapons of mass destruction off the streets, out of our neighborhoods and out of the hands of unstable people and angry children.”
The Republican response to this latest mass shooting, which raised the national gun-violence body count this year to (NUMBER), was muted. Sen. (Lindsey Graham/ Orrin Hatch/ Ted Cruz) accused Democrats of exploiting a national tragedy. “The victims and their families are in our thoughts and prayers,” said the Senator. “We can only dishonor the fallen and add to these families’ heartbreak by screeching about extraneous political crusades at this solemn and tearful moment.”
President Trump shared this respectful sentiment in a tweet from the 15th green of his lovely country club in (Bedminster, New Jersey/ Mar-a-Lago, Florida/ Turnberry, Scotland). “Gun cuntrol killed these kids! Should have been armed. SHOOT FIRST, ask Qs lader. BTW, I’m 3-under par! #MAGA”
Wayne LaPierre, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, reacted compassionately but adamantly. Decrying the “liberal culture of violence that spawned this unAmerican tragedy,” he added, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the innocent victims of this regrettable mishap, as well as our hopes that law enforcement leaders will wake up, smell the cordite and enforce laws already on the books that could have foreseen and prevented these untimely losses.”
Within hours of the shootings, a massive wall of flowers, stuffed animals and memorial messages, from classmates and friends of the deceased, had been piled up in a parking lot adjacent to the killing field… (ADD COPY HERE, QUOTE RANDOM ONLOOKERS, AS SPACE ALLOWS)