So many thoughts and feelings were reeling through my mind and heart as I sat transfixed before the television watching all of the local and national reporting on the Columbia Mall shooting. I felt sadness that three young lives were lost and three families were going to go through so much suffering. I felt grateful that I was not there with my family or friends meeting for lunch in the food court as we often do on Saturday afternoons. I felt relief knowing that family and friends were safe because everyone was calling everyone else to make sure we were all OK.
I felt proud of our police chief and all of the emergency professionals who were willing to risk their lives for us and performed so well. I felt sad too that the mall, where since the day it first opened I've spent so many hours shopping, eating, walking and, most of all, just hanging out with family and friends, may never feel quite the same again.
Now, all of the years of wonderful memories and traditions like "The Ball in the Mall," the poinsettia tree each Christmas at the center fountain, landmark stores like Woodie's and restaurants like Barry's that have been a part of the mall's history have been joined by the memory of this one dark moment. Hopefully, this will fade with time, but our innocence has been forever shattered.
As I think about why this happened in our town, in Columbia at our mall I have one other feeling — anger. We are no different than other communities in America whose peace has been shattered by the act of a mentally ill young man with a big gun and a lot of ammunition. I ask myself why as communities and as a country we are letting this continue to happen. I don't have all the answers but I do have an opinion about where we should start.
I think local, state and national political leaders should stop just decrying each violent incident and actually do something. There are concrete things they can do to help stop this senseless violence. Since mental health issues and big guns seem to be at the core of these shootings in schools, movie theaters, malls and other public places, our leaders can step up to the plate and pass budgets that provide more funding to help the mentally ill and pass reasonable gun laws. If our leaders are not willing to stand up to the gun lobby and other powerful special interest groups to protect us, perhaps it is time to look for leaders who will and provide grass roots support — financial and otherwise.
Barbara L. Russell