The flags are flying at half staff at the Capitol again.
Another heroic man has fallen, not on a distant desert battlefield, but in a schoolyard in Sparks, the most incongruous of places.
Another troubled young man is dead beside that hero, dead far too young and at his own hand.
Again, we mourn. Our leaders struggle in vain for words adequate to describe the horror. There are no words that ever could.
Again, we struggle to understand. “Everybody wants to know why. That’s the big question,” said Sparks Deputy Police Chief Tom Miller, according to the AP. “The answer is, we don’t know right now.” But we may never know, and we certainly couldn’t understand even if we did. There is no reason why that could ever explain.
Instead, we have just the cold, hard facts: A troubled kid brought a Ruger 9mm handgun from his home to school. He shot a student with it. He was confronted by math teacher, coach and former Marine Michael Landsberry on a basketball court. Landsberry walked slowly toward the shooter, hands raised, asking him to surrender.
The kid didn’t. Instead, he shot Landsberry in the chest, before shooting another student in the stomach and finally killing himself with a shot to the head.
Like that, it was over. A man who had served his country in Afghanistan with the Nevada National Guard was gone.
In the emotional aftermath, we search for answers, for some way to make the evil stop. But the truth is, there’s no way to do that, not completely. More laws won’t do it. Laws already prohibit possession of weapons on school grounds, but someone with a heart to do murder will not be stayed. Background checks for gun sales do little good if the gun is taken by someone else. Metal detectors can’t stop someone outside a school. We can make it harder to do violence, and we should, but we can’t ever completely stop it.
We’ll keep asking questions, keep trying to find out what sent a kid to school with a gun and evil intent. Maybe we can figure out a way to do better assessing troubled kids and getting them help sooner.
Then again, all the attention on mental health in the wake of mass shootings didn’t help anybody spot Benjamin Frazier of Las Vegas, a man with a lengthy history of run-ins with the law — from attempted murder in a strip club to punching a bartender to drunken driving.
As the Review-Journal’s Mike Blasky and Francis McCabe reported, Frazier visited the temporary home of Drai’s nightclub inside Bally’s, found things not to his liking and demanded his $30 cover charge back. An argument ensued, one that Frazier ended by allegedly pulling a .38-caliber revolver and opening fire.
Two security guards were hurt, but a man named Kenneth Brown tackled Frazier in an attempt to stop his rampage. Brown was killed in the struggle. Amazingly, his mother said she forgives Frazier for his senseless act of violence. “I forgive the man that shot my son, because of my faith,” said Norma Sattiewhite, Brown’s mother. “I am a child of God. That’s the only thing giving me strength.”
The rest of us might be tempted to paraphrase another child of God, in another moment of senseless murder: My God, my God, why have you forsaken us? That particular child of God forgave as well.
Amid the pain and grief, we can look to the bravery of Michael Landsberry and Kenneth Brown, men who acted to save lives in total disregard of their own. We can look to the faith and forgiveness of a grieving mother. We can hope that the good of this world somehow outweighs the bad. And we can know that the flags at the Capitol will fly at full staff again.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitcs.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.