As news of a shooting spree at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., spread across the nation on Black Friday, it caused me to reflect on the city I loved and lived in from 1999 to 2004.
I still have friends in the community, many of them former colleagues at The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. I knew they would be scrambling to cover and later attempt to make sense of why — for the second time in a month — The Springs was the location for a mass shooting that claimed three lives and seriously injured many others.
In the earlier incident, on Halloween morning, a troubled man being treated for addiction set a residence on fire and then went on a rampage, killing three before being killed in a shootout with Colorado Springs police.
Like many others in that beautiful, scenic city of 400,000 located 70 miles south of Denver, I struggle to fathom how this could happen in a place so much like Boise.
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The people in The Springs love their grand, historic parks and outdoor pursuits. They cherish their open space. The city regularly gets “Best of” accolades for its quality of life and natural treasures, such as Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and Kissing Camels. The Pikes Peak skyline was the inspiration for Katharine Lee Bates’ lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”
Though I would describe the community as somewhat influenced by religious entities, such as mega-churches and the para-church ministries such as Focus on the Family (which is based there), so are a lot of other communities in the West. And like those other cities, conservative politics prevail in certain pockets — especially outside the urban areas.
It is bordered by huge military installations: The Air Force Academy to the north and Fort Carson to the south. Because of so many coming and going, The Springs has a constant churn of population.
None of this surface profile information explains the travails of the last 30 days.
Although the 57-year-old suspect in the Planned Parenthood shooting is said to have uttered the words “no more baby parts” at some point during his arrest — leading to the conclusion that he harbors an anti-abortion agenda or is upset about using fetal tissue for research — deciding on his exact motives at this stage is premature.
Robert Lewis Dear hails from the Carolinas, where he had “run-ins with the law,” according to media reports. Having just moved to Colorado in 2014, he lived in a fairly remote town in central Colorado at about 9,000 feet elevation on a lot with a trailer. According to The Gazette, he was not known to the regular anti-Planned Parenthood protesters.
Only time, more evidence and the legal process will determine whether he is another in a tragic line of mass murderers who acted out in Colorado, beginning with the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School and continuing in the senseless slayings in 2012 at the movie theater in Aurora.
But this is not about Colorado, or any other state. We are in denial if we don’t think it could happen in Idaho. Jurisdictions and locations are as innocent as the victims. We are better served by recognizing we have bodies and grief piling up around the country, stacked higher than all the dead-end debates over guns and mental illness, and the talking points about keeping troubled people from getting guns.
Until we agree to stop wasting time over what divides us and begin focusing on the cause that could unite us — determining effective measures to thwart killers before they have an opportunity to act on their twisted impulses — this awful modern plague will continue to take its toll.
We need a national, bipartisan body on the order of Simpson-Bowles — a commission made up of lawmakers and experts in 2010 to study budget matters — to investigate why these shootings keep happening. We have the resources and expertise to reach effective conclusions.
All we need then is the courage to follow them.