When gunmen whose names are best forgotten killed 12 classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School in 1999, I never imagined that a mass shooting on that scale would be a minor news story.
Almost 20 years later, the latest massacre of like size is destined to fade quickly from headlines. The dead include 12 innocents and one gunman, all killed at a Thousand Oaks, California, bar where college kids line danced to country-and-western songs. Sergeant Ron Helus died heroically as the first police officer on the scene, rushing inside to try to stop the gunman rather than waiting. In the wee hours Thursday morning, as a still-unknown number of victims lay inside, local-TV-news reporters stood asking practiced questions of survivors who had stuck around. Some described having imagined and prepared for such an emergency.
With the killer not yet known, people speculated about the motive: Was it a disgruntled employee? A jealous boyfriend or husband? A person radicalized online by Islamists, or white supremacists, or misogynists? A person suffering from mental illness? Later Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the killer was “a former U.S. Marine machine gunner who may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.” He had served a combat tour in Afghanistan and was 28 years old.