Tonight, there was a shooting at the Grand 16 movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, and as you can probably imagine, I’m feeling all the feelings about it.
It’s not enough of a zoom to say that this happened in my hometown. The theater is a short bicycle ride from my parents’ home. My elementary school is within walking distance. A restaurant where my sister worked for years is within striking distance. I applied for my current job in Reno while sitting at Johnston Street Java, the coffeehouse next door to the theater. That day, my car was probably parked right where news cameras were planted to document the tragic scene, because it so often was.
Every day from kindergarten through third grade (when I lived farther away), my school bus passed by that site, which was at that time the Real Superstore. When the Superstore closed down in 1996, the site — despite its prominent location in the middle of the city — remained vacant and blighted for the next eight years. When the Grand opened in 2004, it excited the community and raised the bar for all other movie theaters. Stadium seating! Huge screens! Top-shelf concessions! Daiquiris! I’ve seen dozens of movies there, sometimes with dates, sometimes with friends, sometimes with young children. I took my mom there to see Flight.
I saw something else there in 2005. While standing in the concession line with several friends before a movie, I heard a commotion. We turned around to see two guys chasing each other in circles in the crowded lobby. I think one had a knife. They were quickly subdued and apprehended by police officers. Bystanders freaked out for a moment, but the ruckus ended quickly, and we said to each other variations of, “Did you see that? Wow,” before proceeding into the sanctuary of the darkened theater, where we’d be safe. And we kept on coming back.
How close this shooting hit home freaked me out once more, all the more so in the social-media age because I saw the conversations happen in real time. Everyone was checking in. Several friends and acquaintances of mine were near the scene, perhaps either at Java, Mellow Mushroom or at Corner Bar. At least one person I know was planning to be at the Grand at that time and had decided against it. At least one other was actually there. Chances are, I know of, or am acquainted with, some of the victims. I even may know of the killer. We’ll see when their names emerge.
On top of all that, it was jarring to look up while at work in a newsroom 2,100 miles and two time zones away and see what has always been a familiar, reassuring sight staring back at me — one most commonly associated with happy bus and car trips — cordoned off with police tape and sirens and a CNN banner of the breaking, and heartbreaking, kind.
But it also hit home in a metaphorical sense, the same way all such incidents do with me. I can’t think of a word, or even a term, that can adequately describe how awful it is that innocent people ever get murdered. This is especially true in a nation that prides itself on its freedom of association and movement — a country that, in theory, doesn’t live in fear of violent death at every corner. And yet, is increasingly prone (and, even worse, increasingly blasé) to such incidents. Preventable incidents that all too often highlight a perfect storm of our worst problems — personal divestment from society, untreated mental illness and access to instant instruments of death that, thanks to a turn of history, we treat inappropriately leniently. Not to mention whatever other issues help abet spikes in shootings where bullets have no business being.
In that sense, I’m not shocked that it happened in Lafayette so much as I’m saddened that it can happen anywhere. That’s the biggest tragedy of all.