This one is different. Sadly, not very long ago, I found myself writing about another tragedy. The massacre at the Aurora movie complex this summer …
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This one is different.
Sadly, not very long ago, I found myself writing about another tragedy. The massacre at the Aurora movie complex this summer was an unbelievable assault of madness and evil.
But, somehow, we understood that one. It was a random act, indiscriminate in its violence, and shocking more for its scale than its particulars.
And though it does nothing to allay the tragedy for the families and friends, we’ve become so used to this sort of thing that we knew, in a macabre way, how to deal with that one.
This one is personal. The abduction and murder of Jessica Ridgeway has gotten under our skin.
Complete strangers are talking about it, and you can feel it weighing on the community like a wet blanket.
This is one extraordinary act of pure cruelty perpetrated against one innocent, helpless representative of our community, and it strikes at the core of who we are.
In whatever small way we are all still childlike, hopeful, and wide-eyed at the world around us, Jessica Ridgeway looks like how that part of our psyches would look.
The official Missing posters betray none of the cynicism, the disappointment, or the caution that mark the visages of the people we see on the streets every day.
This one is personal. I have an 11-year old; she has curly hair and wears glasses. This could have been her. The field where the body was found is a field I have ridden past on my bike dozens of times.
The neighborhood where this happened is one in which I spent six years teaching.
This one is different. This isn’t the act of a madman shooting out randomly from the darkness. This was just down the street, around the corner, right in front of the house where the kids play football after school.
She was hunted, chosen based on a particularly twisted criteria, and taken from the heart of our neighborhood sanctuary.
If the Aurora theater was an explosive expression of evil overwhelming one man’s soul, this one is the quiet, insidious expression of evil that grows and festers, watching and waiting for a moment to rattle us off our equilibrium.
And I use the word “evil” advisedly—I don’t throw it around willy-nilly.
It just seems that way, perhaps, because of how often we have been visited by it lately.
And rattled, we are.
This is “Criminal Minds” territory: We have, among us, someone capable of taking a 10-year old girl from her neighborhood and cutting her to pieces.
Somewhere this demon is sitting by, amused by the coverage of his carnage, planning his next grim Bacchanal.
History tells us that there’s a decent chance that he will not be found any time soon; history also teaches that the community will play a leading role in his capture.
This one is different—carrying on as if nothing happened is not an option.
There is no way to ever regain our equilibrium around this one, but we can move forward smarter. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind;” so let’s prepare.
My friend Jay runs A.P.E. Stranger Awareness; he goes into schools and meets with kindergarteners and teaches them to recognize and respond to danger; he also meets with teens and adults and teaches them where, how and how hard to hit somebody who is trying to harm them.
Also, there are several outstanding martial arts schools in the area, including the headquarters of the United States Taekwon-Do Federation in Broomfield.
But, more than that, it falls to all of us to recommit to our children.
As a man who “survived” a youth spent playing such dangerous games as Dungeons and Dragons (I know—I’ve told you before that I’m a geek!), I firmly believe that evil really only grows in a vacuum.
A mind, a house, a school, a community filled with love and compassion and connectedness leaves no space for this to thrive.
At the very least, it recognizes the smell of something outside the ordinary.
It’s time to circle the wagons around our children, and strengthen our communities.
And, you know what else? We need to pray. For the family, for the school, and for the soul of little Jessica Ridgeway, and for us. In whatever form that takes for each of us as individuals, we need to call on God and all the forces for good to help us become the people that repel this sort of thing, and to give us the courage to confront it and end it.
We owe that much to Jessica.
To find out more about A.P.E. Stranger Awareness, call 303-731-7731.
Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.
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