Well kids it’s about that time of the year where the local news folks start tallying votes for the top news stories of the year. I was thinking about this topic this week. What do you think I came up with in my sleep-deprived brain? Whole Foods coming to downtown? Fun but nah. The standoff between Howard County Public School teachers and the superintendent? That was a hot mess but no. The election? Sorry Democrat friends but as shocking as the results were I can only rank that story as a 1A. The top story of Howard County in 2014 in this blogger’s opinion was the tragic shooting at Columbia Mall. Yeah, remember that? We’re approaching the one year anniversary of this horrific event. January 25, 2014- the day Howard County lost it’s innocence.
If you were like me on that day, you probably kept checking the news and rereading the headlines and social media posts just to be sure they were talking about the same Columbia. Mall shooting? Columbia? You mean Columbia, Maryland? Yup! That incident not only frightened us but it RUNG. OUR. BELLS. The word stunned comes to mind here. Even this city girl had relaxed herself into thinking that a random shooting was unlikely in this sleepy little suburb. Yeah I know we have guns in Howard County. But we don’t have high violent crime rates . We have concerned citizens who stay involved in their community. And we have an unspoken standard of living out here that says that we don’t lean towards violence to solve problems. The shooting was just so out of the blue and unforeseen. Folks around here (or elsewhere I suppose) don’t expect people to go ballistic in the mall and shoot to kill. Nothing is ever that serious here. It just left us all feeling so vulnerable; a state which we’ve always been but just never acknowledged it.
So why do I say that shooting was the biggest story of the year? Well I say that because of the aftermath. The timeline of events on that day were very, very sad. I can still see Police Chief McMahon and then County Executive Ken Ulman wearily answering questions from the press. Then the mall was eerily quiet and calm for weeks after with that memorial wall and basket of white ribbons outside of Zumiez. It seemed to be there forever (Side note: I never even knew what they sold in that store until this event).
But look at what occurred afterwards. We had oodles and oodles and oodles of discussions about guns, gun safety, police presence or lack there of, mall security, racial profiling, and of course mental health. That dreary, bitter cold day in January actually jump started a hearty discussion and consequent action regarding how we address mental health needs in Howard County. It spurred Ken Ulman to issue an executive order which included a “package” of mental health initiatives including a task force. He pledged more funding to provide a mobile crisis team that would work collaboratively with the police. I sincerely hope that Allan Kittleman doesn’t undo this work.
The shooting, two victims shy of being classified as a mass shooting, left us with questions that we still cannot answer almost one year afterwards. We never did find out why that boy, whose name I refuse to say, really did what he did. Was he really just a copycat or was it deeper than that? We know he lived in College Park, Maryland. We know this was planned and that he had an obsession with mass shootings such as the Columbine incident from years ago. We know that he kept a journal with very few details about his train of thought. We know that he heard voices and did not follow up on it like the doctor ordered. But they whys of this case still haunt this community. Why would this Prince George’s County resident get a Mossberg 12-gauge shot gun and take a taxicab to Howard County to execute people? What gave him such pleasure in seeing people die in such a violent manner? What made this child so unhappy and why didn’t he get help for his unhappiness? Did anyone in his immediate circle notice some signs that he was homicidal? To this day, we still want to know. Unfortunately we may never know and that stings a little. Answers helps us to heal and educate future generations.
The mall shooting put Columbia, Maryland on the map and not in a positive way. It was our inch in the fabric of gun violence that has wrapped this country up in fear. According to USA Today, since 2006 there have been more than 200 mass killings. The victims can be the shooter’s family members or people in the public. This scene is too familiar in our country. Just four months prior to the mall shooting a law went into effect in Maryland that was supposed to help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Instead gun sales increased just before it passed. As for mental health, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, Maryland has 49 total mental health care health professional shortage areas and only 66% of the needs have been met in mental health.
Well that’s my point of view as we come to the end of 2014. I wish I could say the biggest story was something positive and amazing like ending poverty and hunger in Ho Co, or fabulous test scores for FARMs students or the Urban Bushwoman becoming Queen of Howard County. Alas, that is not the case. I’m praying for a more peaceful 2015 and every year after but that’s a pipe dream. We’ve got a lot more work to do in many, many areas before that proverbial peace on Earth can happen. Don’t just wish for peace, work for it.
What do YOU think was the biggest news story in Howard County for 2014?