It has been a long, exhausting and sad week for Roanoke, VA, to say the very least. I met my spouse in Roanoke. Our daughter was born in Roanoke. Most of my friends and news/advertising/marketing colleagues still live and work in the Roanoke Region. I lived there for eight years and when I think about my time in Roanoke, it holds so many beautiful and fun memories and despite the horror that has occurred there this week, that is the way I will choose to remember it.
I would be lying though if I said I haven’t been thinking about the events that took place there this week because I have. I know most people have, and for most of us living in our world today, I wonder if we haven’t become numb to these types of incidents: another day, another shooting and the world keeps spinning ‘round and ‘round. Are we sad? Yes. Do we mourn? Yes. Do we unite and pull together as a community and nation when these types of things happen? Yes.
But do we ever really, truly do anything about it to hopefully minimize the risk of it happening again? Do we ever address the true issues and problems that cause these types of horrific scenes? Do we ever learn and grow from our own man-made history of violence and recklessness?
No. Not at all. And this is what needs to change in order for our society to ever be able to move forward as a safer nation for everyone. We all mourn and grieve and say, “This is so senseless. These types of things have to stop!” but it seems like that’s as far as it goes in the conversation of guns, gun safety and mental health awareness in our country. For the most part we put our heads in the sand and foolishly think, “As long as it’s not happening to me, it’s not my problem.”
But it is.
Roanoke could easily be your town or city that becomes affected next. Then what do you do? How do you feel? It could easily be your son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. If we haven’t learned anything as a country shouldn’t we at least know by now that violence doesn’t discriminate?
We should, but we don’t. And we definitely do not address the real issue of why these types of shootings continue to take place: mental health, awareness and illness.
When I first heard the news of the shootings, I was so angered (mostly at Vester), sad and disappointed. My mind was reeling and all I could think was how horrible of a person Vester must have been to do such a horrible thing. Then his background information started to be revealed...
This was a man who by all accounts, was severely and uncontrollably mentally ill. So much so, that even his former employer, WDBJ, forced him to seek mental health counseling at one point as a part of his agreement to be employed by the station because they became witness to his illness and the potential for an unsafe working environment. In every conversation I've heard about Vester from current and previous co-workers, employers, friends and even some of his own family, Vester suffered from severe mental illness. It was a mental illness that unfortunately, was never diagnosed properly let alone treated.
He's been called "nuts," a "piece of shit," a "loser" and so much more but really, what you should be calling him is an unfortunate product of the society we live in today. Don't be mad at Vester; be mad at the legislators and lobbyists who make it their job every day to fight against gun legislation. Don't be mad at Vester; be mad at the insurance companies who work hard every day to do the least amount possible in providing mental health coverage in their plans. Don't be mad at Vester; be mad at the glorification of guns and violence in our society. Don't be mad at Vester; be mad at the legislators and lobbyists who crawl in bed with the gun companies to help keep both their pockets fat and happy while people continue to die.
Does this excuse what Vester did? No. Not at all. Am I on his side? Absolutely not. But how can we post and talk about empathy, love and understanding on social media and in the news in the wake of this awful event and not try to understand the real reason why these shootings happened? When will society, legislators and gun owners STOP squabbling about gun rights and the issues that don't really matter and deal with the real issue at hand - mental illness and our societies and government's inability and position to not deal with it and do something to make it better. What is it really going to take for change to be made in our country where this issue is concerned??
Now is the time to start having these difficult conversations. Now is the time to start facing this uncomfortable topic and issue head on. Now is the time to finally bring mental illness and awareness to the forefront. We must force our government and local/state legislators to ACT NOW for the betterment of our society as a whole. We cannot continue to keep brushing this issue under the carpet. How many more people have to die for the right thing to be done?
I feel so much sadness for the victims. My heart aches for them but I too feel sadness for Vester. When I think about the victims, I say, "What could their lives have been?" and when I think about Vester, all I'm left thinking is, "Could this all have been avoided if he had gotten the help he needed?"