We forget, the pain stays, nothing changes

The memorial to the nine people killed in the Aug. 4 shooting in the Oregon District. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
The memorial to the nine people killed in the Aug. 4 shooting in the Oregon District. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Do you know these people?

Josephine Gray. Denise Cohen. William Sanders. Thomas McNichols. Aaron Feis.

All five died in horrific mass shootings. And I’m sure no one knew all those names. I didn’t. I had to look them up because while I remember each event and the name of each shooter, I don’t remember the people.

Because we forget.

Donna Johnson won’t forget. Her nephew, Thomas “TeeJay” McNichols, was one of nine people killed in the Oregon District shooting on August 4, 2019.

She told me the recent shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, CO was “like ripping a scab off just as it’s trying to heal.” She paused and quietly said, “It can’t ever heal.”

Ray Marcano
Ray Marcano

She said the first thing she thought, after hearing about the shootings, was to pray for the families, not only for what they’re going through now but the pain that is yet to come.

It is a pain far too many Americans feel. Through March 23, there have been 101 mass shootings in the United States that have killed 122 people and wounded 325 more. (The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as one that has four or more victims).

Some 18 people have been slaughtered in Atlanta and Boulder this month alone. But my guess is, without looking, you couldn’t name but a few (if any) of the victims.

Because we forget.

I asked Johnson if we’ve forgotten what happened in the Oregon District; if we, as a community, has moved on.

You don’t hear about the Oregon District shooting much “unless something happens,” she said. “In a way, somethings it’s kind of good that you don’t hear it, but you don’t want it to be forgotten. We will never forget, but the outside community yeah, they, will forget.”

It’s far too easy to go to the next thing. We have attention spans as long as tweets; once we’ve read through one, go on to the next. That lack of attention means it’s hard to focus on important debates that can make us safer. Instead, we go to our idealistic corners and support nonsensical positions based on slogans and sound bites.

And in that noise, we lose one important fact --- the Atlanta and Boulder shooters apparently purchased their weapons legally. We should examine: Were all the checks and balances in place? If they were, were there any actions we could have taken to prevent these tragedies? If they weren’t, how do we fix that?

But we can’t even get there. We should, but we won’t. Because we forget.

So the next time we have a mass shooting --- and there will be a next time --- don’t forget those like our own Thomas McNichols:

Josephine Gray. She was just seven years old when she was killed at Sandy Hook. Some 28 people --- mostly little children --- were slaughtered.

Denise Cohen. She and her boyfriend were killed in the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest in modern American history, with 61 deaths, including the gunman.

William Sanders. He was the teacher who ushered kids to safety at Columbine, only to be shot while doing so. He later died, as did 12 others.

Aaron Feis was the football coach at Marjorie Douglass Stoneman High School and ran toward the bullets instead of away from them to protect his students. Some 17 people died.

We’ve forgotten them and everyone else who has been killed because we can’t take baby steps to stop the slaughter.

We should also never forget the sound of Donna Johnson’s voice and the drawn look on her face, clear as day over a Facebook video chat more than 18 months after her nephew died.

“It’s a thing I’ll never get over,” she said.

So now, every Sunday, she gathers her family for dinner so they can remain close and share a gut-wrenching common bond that’s torn their family’s soul.

They do that so they don’t forget. And we shouldn’t either.

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