My daugh­ter’s in­no­cence was shat­tered that night

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - Michelle Cleary-Haire

When­ever peo­ple ask me what the most ex­tra­or­di­nary days of my life or my most pre­cious mem­o­ries are, I al­ways state en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and with­out hes­i­ta­tion — the birth of my three chil­dren. Be­ing the youngest daugh­ter in a fam­ily of 12, I al­ways knew I wanted to have chil­dren and hav­ing four older sis­ters, I wanted a few daugh­ters. God blessed me with all girls. Through­out their lives thus far there have been many won­der­ful mo­ments and spe­cial oc­ca­sions which have soft­ened the few bumps that oc­curred along the way, but noth­ing equals what I ex­pe­ri­enced re­cently.

A few weeks ago I had one of the most fear-pro­vok­ing phone calls a mother could re­ceive from her child. My 19-year-old daugh­ter called cry­ing her heart out, sob­bing as she tried to ask me if I knew where her sis­ter was. I stayed as calm as pos­si­ble and asked if she was OK while vi­sions of ev­ery pos­si­ble catas­tro­phe whirled through my head.

Fi­nally, af­ter what seemed like an hour she told me there had been a shoot­ing out­side her work­place and a cou­ple of peo­ple had been shot. The po­lice came into her work­place and told all the em­ploy­ees they had to va­cate the premises right away for se­cu­rity rea­sons. She was now stand­ing in the park­ing lot of a nearby gas sta­tion in the cold try­ing to call some­one to come pick her up as she was not al­lowed ac­cess to her car be­cause the area was cor­doned off by the po­lice.

I told her to stay put while I phoned some­one who could pick her up as soon as pos­si­ble. Ar­range­ments were made for her to be brought to her apart­ment in St. John’s and she waited in a car with a co-worker and her fam­ily un­til a dear friend picked her up. Those min­utes wait­ing to hear that she was no longer in the vicin­ity of the shoot­ings seemed like an eter­nity as all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of what could have hap­pened to her fil­tered through ev­ery fi­bre of my brain, and be­ing a very vis­ual learner, the im­ages were both shock­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing.

Like many moth­ers, I was not blessed with the gene that al­lows me to fo­cus only on what ac­tu­ally hap­pened in any sit­u­a­tion; I tend to worry about what could have hap­pened. In this sit­u­a­tion, I was so relieved my daugh­ter was OK that I cried tears of hap­pi­ness, yet I could not stop think­ing about what might have hap­pened had she worked next to the clinic where the shoot­ings took place or was in the clinic. Wit­ness­ing such a tragedy is a tragedy in it­self.

My daugh­ter had a hard time sleep­ing that night and was com­forted by fam­ily and friends. She had a lot to process. She was in shock over the fact that a shoot­ing had taken place in the plaza where she works, sad about the un­nec­es­sary, bru­tal loss of life, an­gry at the gun­man and sur­prised to dis­cover the shoot­ing was a di­rect act of vi­o­lence against a woman. Her in­no­cence was shat­tered, her view of life for­ever al­tered.

This mur­der-sui­cide im­pacted the fam­i­lies of the de­ceased, their friends and ev­ery­one who knew them. It im­pacted those glued to their TV screens wait­ing for word on whether the sus­pect was in po­lice cus­tody, as well as the res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity who were told to lock their doors and stay in­side. This tragedy im­pacted my daugh­ter be­cause, for the first time in her life, she ex­pe­ri­enced the kind of fear that only a gun-wield­ing in­di­vid­ual can ini­ti­ate.

Peo­ple are bom­barded with vi­o­lent im­ages on their TV and com­puter screens, on the ra­dio, in movies and video games and in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. It is com­mon knowl­edge that vi­o­lence sells. Vi­o­lence is not a for­eign con­cept in our ru­ral and ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties as it has al­ways been a part of our hu­man­ity. The tragedy in CBS has brought that vi­o­lence into my home and pierced the very heart and soul of my be­ing.

New found wealth has brought with it a dou­ble-edged sword. New­found­lan­ders and Labradore­ans are mak­ing more money con­nected to the oil and gas sec­tor than any time in our prov­ince’s his­tory but con­nected to that wealth is in­creased acts of vi­o­lence, rob­beries, break-ins, hold-ups and mur­ders. Much of it is re­lated to drug and al­co­hol abuse, but not all. Many crim­i­nal acts are just that, crim­i­nal.

Our so­ci­ety is chang­ing ev­ery­day and so are many of our pre-con­ceived views on how peo­ple should act to­wards oth­ers. Are we to just say that vi­o­lence is now a part of ev­ery­day liv­ing here? Or should we start act­ing more proac­tively by stand­ing up and say­ing “enough is enough?”

We need more neigh­bour­hood watch pro­grams, anti-vi­o­lence ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for our youth and for those al­ready con­victed of vi­o­lent crimes, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams for those ad­dicted to drugs and al­co­hol and gam­bling, an in­creased po­lice force and pres­ence in our com­mu­ni­ties, and harsher sen­tences for first-time of­fend­ers of crimes. We need a gov­ern­ment will­ing to spend our tax dol­lars in ways that will ad­dress all the prob­lems listed above NOW and not when some sur­vey or study is com­pleted. We can­not wait un­til gangs take over our streets or shoot­ings be­come an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence. We just can’t!

As par­ents we need to be more aware of where our chil­dren are, what they are do­ing and whom they are do­ing what­ever with. That may not en­sure they are lead­ing lives by some moral com­pass but it does let them know we are present and en­gaged in their lives. Our love and guid­ance and vig­i­lance have to be­gin at home. We need to look out for our neigh­bor, speak up when we see peo­ple be­ing vic­tim­ized and start show­ing more re­spect to our se­niors and our­selves.

I am def­i­nitely not an ex­pert on how peo­ple should live their lives on a daily ba­sis so I think that Gandhi said it best, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We can make our towns and cities safer places to live and raise our fam­i­lies and we can do it one good per­son at a time, one good act at a time, one day at a time, un­til we re­store that feel­ing of con­tent­ment and se­cu­rity most of us have felt our whole lives liv­ing in this beau­ti­ful prov­ince.

Our tourism ads en­cour­age those ‘come­from-aways’ to “Come and ex­plore all this prov­ince has to of­fer,” so firstly, let’s make sure that above all, it is a safe place for all of us who choose to call this place home.

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