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Home Base: How can we prevent unspeakable tragedies?


Zack Plair

Zack Plair



Zack Plair



This newspaper employs more than one reasonably close friend of the Gabe Parker family. 


As you probably know by now, Gabe is the 15-year-old Marshall County, Kentucky, student who opened fire in his school last week, killing two and wounding several others. 


Little has been offered by way of a reason for this tragedy. In any case, no reason can be justified. The grieving families of the victims -- to whom I offer the most heartfelt condolences -- deserve the pursuit of justice our legal system affords and Gabe will undoubtedly pay a hefty price for his actions. 


Admittedly, with so many of these shootings occurring all over the country, it's easy to become numb -- or in my case, so disgusted by the whole mess that I try to read and know as little as possible about that type of news. 


Then Monday, I clicked on a link identifying one of these shooters as a boy with whom I've had countless conversations, played a few video games and even once shared Thanksgiving dinner. As another reporter -- who had many of the same experiences with this child -- said, it's hard to reconcile the Gabe we knew with the one we're now reading about. 


Gabe's mother Mary and I go back about six years to when I was working in Paragould, Arkansas. It was a friendship forged, at first, over the phone as she was the Paducah, Kentucky-based page designer for the Paragould newspaper. Soon, we became great friends, and a few months after I moved to Starkville as managing editor of the Daily News, I hired her as news editor before she moved on to manage the West Point newspaper. 


We hung out often when she lived in Starkville. Much of that time, she was a single mom raising Gabe with unwavering love and care. 


Much of what I've read about Gabe since the incident includes people saying he was "so quiet." He wasn't always, and when he spoke, he did so with the depth and sharp wit of a person well beyond his years. He's intelligent, talented and what I saw of him was kind, well-mannered and good-natured. After he moved back to Kentucky, he became, by all accounts, a great big brother to his now toddler sister. 


Now, much of his otherwise boundless potential is lost to one disastrous decision. It's a decision that may cause some -- especially the victims' families -- to consider him a monster. But Gabe is still a person. 


Many arguments ensue when tragedies like this occur. Most of them center on access to firearms and increasing safety measures at schools. Those are understandable talking points. 


It's also understandable to focus so intensely on the victims' grief after an incident like this while finding it impossible to empathize with the perpetrator. In fact, this is the first incident of its kind where I haven't felt precisely that way because now I'm starting to realize it's reactionary, late and does nothing to break the cycle of violence. 


To prevent it, we as a society have to commit ourselves to do everything we can to save the Gabes before they become shooters, an issue admittedly long on challenges and short on proven solutions. 


The quickest finger always points to the home. But in Gabe's case -- at least where his mother and stepfather are concerned -- there are two hardworking, loving, attentive parents who are undoubtedly grieving as hard for the victims' families as they are for their son. 


Are there things we can learn from these tragedies where we can spot warning signs and intervene? Once warning signs are spotted, how are they treated? When should we say something, and to whom? Neither the questions nor answers are easy, but that doesn't absolve our whole society from investigating the matter earnestly. 


And for Gabe, his victims, his community, his parents and grandparents -- all of whom are now shaken to their core -- I pray they find peace and light at the end of the tunnel. The days may never be quite like they were again for any of you. But through peace and forgiveness, there is healing.


Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.


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