When senseless violence strikes the heart of a community, people naturally are stunned.
They don’t understand why someone would kill a teacher, a student or a waitress. They are angry. Afraid.
The shootings Friday inside a Moses Lake classroom and Tuesday’s gunfire in the main-floor restaurant of Spokane’s Ridpath Hotel ricochet through the Inland Northwest’s psyche.
People start worrying about their next trip to the grocery store, the day-care center or a movie theater. Will they be caught in the cross fire?
The most confounding riddle, experts say, is the frequent lack of clues when someone is about to explode.
These kinds of killers suffer from some intense emotion they cannot cope with in normal ways, or they have so little emotion they don’t care about consequences, said assistant professor Angela Scarpa, an expert in the psychology of violence.
“There aren’t any real telltale signs,” the Eastern Washington University faculty member said.
“It’s hard for people in the community to understand why someone would move to that sort of behavior. It could be any of us. It could have been my kid, my employee.”
For many, the violence Tuesday in the heart of downtown Spokane during a busy workday comes too close for comfort.
A North Side dental technician said she felt a pang of fear when she heard the news. She leaves her child at a day-care center near the Ridpath.
She’s not the only one. People across town are talking about the shootings.
Experts say that’s normal and healthy.
The violence of the last week comes after the city of Spokane recorded an all-time high of 24 murders in 1995 and less than two years after a disturbed gunman opened fire at the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital. Four people and the gunman were killed.
Scarpa said the possibility that violence can happen anywhere, any time, is frightening and real.
The fear is greatest for people who witness violence or know someone who was involved in some way, Scarpa said.
Even people not connected with random violence can feel the fear, especially children, she said. “A lot of times, the fear builds up in us.”
Roberta Rundell, a social worker at Midway Elementary School in the Mead School District, said children already worry about guns and abductors. The latest incidents will heighten those fears, she said.
In her work with children, she said, “it comes up a lot - the fear of violence, the fear of guns.”
“People are going to withdraw, reassess and feel much, much more threatened in terms of their safety,” said Mary Brown, who oversees school counselors for Spokane School District 81.
Adults should talk about the problem of violence among themselves and with their children. Often, children will hold their fears inside, so parents need to be careful to draw out those fears through conversation.
Parents also should make it clear that violence is not an acceptable solution to problems, the school counselor said.
Scarpa said psychological research shows that talking about fear helps alleviate the anxiety. A sympathetic ear of a friend may be enough for most people, but others might seek help from a pastor or professional counselor.
Even though senseless violence is shocking, the truth is it doesn’t happen every day. People need to remember that, Scarpa said.
Violence is a concern, but parents and children cannot let fear of it paralyze them, she said.
“It’s not as common as we might think. That might help put it in perspective.”
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