There's a lot we don't know yet about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut Friday, but the essentials are clear: someone murdered 20 children and six adults in cold blood.
We've all seen enough of these sorts of disgusting acts to be a bit inured, but killing children...it just sucks the heart right out of you.
He first killed his own mother before driving to the school where she worked, where the principal, who recognized him, let him in.
The accounts understandably were fluid and confused on Friday, but one of the children said that the intercom system was turned on and that her teacher, recognizing danger, locked her classroom door and got the children in as safe a position as possible.
If that's true, whoever turned on the intercom deserves a special blessing, because that person probably saved a lot of lives.
The shooter, as all of these misfit shits seem to do, killed himself. He could have done the world a big favor and gone to a nice quiet spot and kissed his gun alone. Taking 26 people with you...it's beyond comprehension and for all but the very best of us, beyond forgiveness.
As President Obama said, any parent was horrified, but you don't have to be a parent to be horrified and disgusted by what this person did. For parents, though, there is a special hell in this. You leave your kids at school and assume that everything is fine. But there are no guarantees.
There will be a lot of fury and angst following this barbarism, but so far, there has been almost no mention of a central issue, which is two-fold:
First, as the profilers tell us, people who do these sorts of things often, perhaps even usually, give warnings first. Or, as in the Virginia Tech shootings, many recognize the danger signs. We should find a way to scan social media to find any signs of imminent danger. For younger people, it has become an important way to communicate, even for the deranged.
More importantly, though, is this: prior to the 1960s and '70s, the mental health system in this country, while seriously flawed, still managed to care for those who were unable to care for themselves or who were dangers to others.
Decades ago, with the best of intentions, many of those were released and had no means to care for themselves. Many of them ended up living on the streets and we see younger versions still today, pushing shopping carts or talking to apparitions.
As part of that move to let marginally functional people take their chances in the broader world, we also cut back drastically on our mental health systems and made it much harder to commit people to institutions.
So while everyone at Virginia Tech who dealt with the shooter understood he was dangerously disturbed, there were not many options to segregate him from society at large. That was the same for the recent shooter in Colorado and for the Columbine scum as well. There were signs. There were warnings. They were not properly heeded.
Until we rebuild a rational mental health system which can care for those who can't care for themselves and which allows us to identify dangerous people and to get them away from innocent people and into either therapy or humane confinement, these things will happen over and over.