By Sally Carpenter
For this post I’m going to forgo fiction for true crime.
Every week, it seems, another city is ravaged by a mass shooting. It’s easy from the security of ones own home to say, “How tragic, but it could never happen here.”
Until it does.
Thousand Oaks, Calif., is a large city about 10 or so miles south of where I live. It’s considered one of the safety cities of its size in the U.S. But on the night of Nov. 7, 2018, T.O. became another sad statistic.
An armed ex-Marine walked into the Borderline Bar and Grill during the monthly College Night when many young adults were relaxing and dancing to live country music. Within minutes, 12 people were shot dead—including a police office who lived in my town—and others wounded. The killer then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.
Three months later, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I don’t know any of the people present at the bar that night and I wasn’t there, so I can only image the terror as the survivors fled for their lives or helped others to safety. The survivors will no doubt be dealing with raw emotions for the rest of their lives. And the grief of the victims’ families seem unthinkable.
The police have determined no motive for the slaying. A few theories have been suggested, including PTSD, but questions remain: Of all the bars in T.O. that night, why that one? Why that night? What triggered the act? What did the madman hope to accomplish through killing strangers?
The bar remains closed out of respect for the victims, but another local music venue has stepped in to host a weekly Borderline Country Music Night, so the former house bands can continue to perform and the Borderline regulars can still gather in solidarity.
The rest of the community has shown amazing support. A foundation set up a special fund with the monies going directly to the victims’ families. Many groups and individuals have held fundraisers. A jeweler created unique necklaces with the profits going to the special fund. A printer created “T.O. Strong” T-shirts and has been working nonstop for weeks to fulfill orders.
REO Speedwagon was already scheduled for a local January concert, so the band (several of the musicians live in the area) decided to donate the ticket sales to the special fund. Due to audience demand, a second concert was added.
Another benefit concert was held in the large Civic Arts Plaza with a slew of well-known country singers along with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the emcee.
A small church of about 35 members held a special collection for the special fund that resulted in its largest Sunday offering to date. The local megachurch, Calvary Community, opened its doors to host several funerals for the victims, even those who were not church members.
An artist drew pencil sketches of the victims and donated the portraits to the families. Another artist created a large wall banner with life-size color drawings of the fallen.
I work at a community newspaper, and besides carrying the news coverage, the paper is also running profiles of each victim. The reporter said the families have been happy to talk about their loved one and share their memories with the world.
I don’t have a neat way to wrap up this post, as real life is often messy and many crimes are never solved or resolved, as the pain lingers on long after the police report is filed.
Perhaps that is why we write mysteries. As authors, we have control over good and evil. Writers can punish the wicked and bring them to the justice that often seems lacking in reality. Authors can delve into minds and find the motive. Writers can tie up loose ends and leave readers with the satisfaction that, at least in our story, all will turn out right for the good guys.
Note: in your comments, please do not discuss gun control, mental illness, politics, police efforts or similar subjects. This post is not the place to debate such topics.