Things like this don’t happen in upstate New York

Melissa Stagnaro

One of my best friends from college lives in the San Francisco Bay area.  Just last week he was pestering me about when I was going to move out there. I’ll admit that I didn’t give it much thought, especially when I received his next message – saying he was in the middle of a mild earthquake.

To me, there is no such thing as a mild earthquake. The very idea that the earth could start shaking beneath your feet with no warning scares the living daylights out of me. I feel the same way about other whims of Mother Nature, like tornadoes and tsunamis.

Hurricanes rank right up there as well. Sure, there is a little more notice, but I’m still scared to death of them. Having to evacuate for an impending storm (even though it ended up steering well clear of my then home in the Florida Keys), was easily one of the most harrowing experiences of my life.

Such natural disasters are why I’m glad to be living in upstate New York; where Mother Nature’s vengeance is limited to long winters, excessive cloud cover and staggering humidity. I consider us lucky. Especially since this area is also largely devoid of poisonous insects and reptiles. We’ve got it pretty good.

Of course, it’s not just the lack of natural disasters that make me feel safe and secure in this region. For the most part, our communities are tight knit and our crime rates low, at least compared to more metropolitan areas.

With the exception of my father (a retired cop who has read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood once too often), most of us living here feel insulated from the evils of the so-called outside world. I know many people who leave their cars running when they stop at a convenience store, or their doors and windows unlocked at night.

On Friday, however, we had that security blanket ripped away.

Like many, I watched the news coverage of the tragedy at the American Civic Association in Binghamton with a mixture of shock, horror and deep sadness. My emotions were tinged heavily with denial. I mean, that couldn’t really be the same Binghamton only 20 miles down the road from my house that they were talking about in the same sentence as the words “hostage situation.” Yet there it was, depicted in the same grainy loop of video footage on every 24-hour cable news network.

How could something like this – 13 killed by an armed gunman who then took his own life, dozens huddled in the basement fearing for their own lives – happen here where we all feel so safe?

While national news organizations leap to draw parallels between this incident and others around the country, I struggle to understand how this could happen at all anywhere. Especially here. How someone could be so distraught and desperate that they snap and take the lives of so many innocents.

Already there are those who are picking apart Friday’s events, criticizing the agencies who responded and pointing fingers. Others try to grasp at straws in order to find some explanation why this could happen next door, but never, ever to them. Don’t they realize that now isn’t the time for all of that?

As a community, we should be mourning the loss suffered by the families and friends of the victims of this senseless tragedy and the harrowing experience endured by the survivors. We can mourn our own sense of loss, that we aren’t so far removed from the outside world, later.

My heart and thoughts go out to all who have been affected by Friday’s tragedy.