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When a mass shooting hits your hometown

Dayton is where I was born and where I spent my entire childhood.

Keelie Cook receives a hug from family as her father-in-law Christopher, left, was on hand during a candlelight vigil for 3-month-old Dayton who passed away from injuries resulting in a car accident. The vigil was held at 8 p.m. (same time as Dayton’s bed Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — I woke up on Sunday morning to news that wasn't all that surprising. Another mass shooting had occurred — the fourth in the span of a week, the second in 14 hours.

If I'm honest, I barely gave a second thought to the first three incidents in California, Mississippi and Texas. I was busy with work and happily preparing for my sister's wedding. I read one news story, liked a couple of tweets and moved on with my day. But the fourth shooting was different.

Nine victims were dead in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton is a city I'm proud to be from. It's where I was born and spent my entire childhood. It calls to mind images of rollerblading along the Miami River, spending summer nights catching fireflies, Marion's Pizza, the Wright brothers, rich arts and culture, and tight-knit communities full of the nicest people I've ever known.

The perfect blend of a big city and small town, Dayton was chosen for the negotiation of the end of the Bosnian War in 1995 because participants wouldn't be too distracted by media or nightlife. "It was just boring enough," a Stanford history professor once told me.

Deseret News reporter Erica Evans visits Carillon Historical Park in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, on January 19, 2019.
Deseret News reporter Erica Evans visits Carillon Historical Park in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, on January 19, 2019.
Erica Evans

This past January, I visited Dayton and made sure to hit all of my favorite spots, including Bill's Donut Shop, Carillon Park and the Schuster Performing Arts Center. I went out to dinner with my childhood best friend in the Oregon district, just one block away from the site of Sunday's shooting. I remember walking back to my car that night, laughing and making plans for the next day. Now I picture that same scene, but I imagine walking past a horde of people, bloodied and screaming.

I don't know anyone who was killed or harmed in the Dayton shooting, but some of my friends posted on social media about people they knew who were there and had to run for their lives. The fact that there is just one degree of separation between me and the victims makes this shooting feel completely different to me than all the others.

It reaffirms what I already knew, that a mass shooting could happen anywhere, and that people I love could get caught in carnage. It feels like the violence is creeping closer, and that next, I will be the one fleeing a man wearing a mask and bulletproof vest with a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle. At this point, I don't know if that fear is rational or irrational.

Everyone has a knee-jerk response to mass shootings. Some offer thoughts and prayers, some advocate for gun control, some call for increased security and more guns in the hands of good people, some put the focus on mental health, some plead for a time to grieve before the tragedy is politicized, and some demand immediate action. But if your response would change if the shooting happened in your hometown — or if it was your loved ones who were killed — then it's time to change your response.

In the case of the Dayton shooting, police were patrolling nearby and neutralized the shooter within approximately 30 seconds, according to Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl. Surely, the quick-acting police saved dozens of lives. But in 30 seconds, the shooter was still able to kill 9 people with an AR-15-style assault rifle and 100-round drum magazine, according to Time. Increased security is not a solution by itself.

In the 1990s, the Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs were deeply divided by ethnic hatred that had erupted into three and a half years of war, mass rape, ethnic cleansing and bombings. But during the Dayton Peace Accords, these groups came together in Dayton, Ohio to put an end to the violence.

Authorities work the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. A several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said.
Authorities work the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. A several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said.
John Minchillo, AP

On the day peace was finally brokered, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said, “I trust that one day, people will look back on Dayton and say, ‘This is the place where the fundamental choices were made. This is where the parties chose peace over war, dialogue over destruction, reason over revenge. And this is where each of us accepted the challenge to make those choices meaningful and to make them endure.’"

I hope that Dayton will be the end of this string of shootings, and that one day people will look back on this week as a turning point. Let Dayton serve as a symbolic call for disparate parties to come together in the name of peace, dialogue and reason. It's time to make meaningful choices to minimize gun violence in America, "and to make them endure."