When it Doesn’t Make Sense

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

It was a cool Monday evening in February 2007 in Salt Lake City, Utah. A dating couple had come to Trolley Square Mall to have a celebratory dinner. A mom and teenage daughter had come to shop for Valentines Day. A father and son were on their way to their car in the parking garage. An off-duty police officer had a lovely dinner with his wife. A young woman strolled the hallways. What they all had in common was that they did not expect an 18 year old to walk into the mall and begin shooting people. The father and son were shot in the parking lot. As the 16-year-old escaped, the shooter shot his father a second time, killing him. The young woman was shot twice as the shooter passed her in the hallway. The shooter entered a card store, where he shot the couple and the mother and daughter. When he returned he shot the remaining survivors again, killing two of the three of them. Multiple others were shot and wounded. The off-duty police officer heard the shots and began a stand-off with the gunman while his wife called 911. As backup arrived, the shooter engaged in a standoff with police before he was killed.

This is such a difficult case because nobody knew. Nobody could have known. One of the survivors said that when the shots began, they just thought it was construction, so they ignored the noise. There is absolutely no reason something like this should’ve happened. Police investigated this incident for two years without finding a motive. Some have proposed religious intention, as the shooter was a Bosnian Muslim immigrant who had just received his green card. However, his family were just as shocked at the incident as the victims were. Police have since determined that there was no religious motive behind the shooting. Several members of his family moved back to Bosnia at the shame of living in a country where a member fo their family had committed mass murder. This was an anomaly for all intents and purposes.

The struggle with this is that our minds need to know why. Trauma does not make sense. It leaves unanswered questions and struggles. Knowing why makes a situation more understandable and easier to cope with. The danger is that in our search for “why,” we will sometimes grasp for anything that will give us some semblance of an answer. No mother wants to watch her daughter shot and killed and wake up every day feeling sick with the memories. No son wants to remember a shooting as the last time he saw his father. No high school wants to deal with the loss of a friend and fellow student. No father wants to face the reality that his son murdered people in the country that gave them escape from the terrors of his homeland. But, we have to. No, I haven’t experienced this kind of trauma. I don’t know what it feels like to be in any of these positions. But I do know that sometimes life throws things at us that just don’t have answers. We have all experienced something on some level that we just had to learn to accept.

What can we do, if not understand? We can keep moving forward, as hard as it is. We can continue to grow and improve, to build ourselves and our community. We can educate ourselves and our community. We can find purpose in the pain. Stay connected to people you know and love. Volunteer in your community. Hold active shooter response workshops. Make your children aware of what to do in an active shooter situation like you would for a fire or a tornado. Encourage schools and local businesses to have active shooter plans and precautions. Be careful, but live your life. Love your family, live life fully. Teach. Build. Grow. And keep moving forward.

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