HOUSTON, TX – On Friday, May 18, Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed 10 people, eight classmates, one substitute teacher, and ateacher’s aide at Santa Fe High School, south of Houston, 37 miles from my home in Sugar Land.He also wounded 10 people, including a police officer, during his rampage.When he was arrested, he said he didn’t have the courage to kill himself.
The first call to police of shots fired came at around 7:45 AM, Central Time, but the local news didn’t break into its analysis of the royal wedding until around 8:15.As I drive out of my subdivision an hour later, I note that all the flags outside of local businesses are already flying at half-mast, before either the White House or the State House do so.On the recumbent bike at the gym, I watch Life Flight helicopters land on the school campus, SWAT and more ambulances arrive, and officers wait.One news anchor repeats that “an active shooting event occurred . . .”, emphasizing the past tense, suggesting that everything is under control.But there is still no information forthcoming.
A man shows up at the scene of the shootings with an American flag over one shoulder and a gun strapped to his hip “to offer support and make America great again.”
I go to the university and sit through meetings and an end-of-year pot luck.The invocation doesn’t include the shooting victims.I lose my appetite.
I return a colleague’s call – a priest, as it happens – and he laments the state of our country, and now our city, that gun violence is out of control and children are not safe in what should be the safest place for them other than their homes.
At 3:00, my cousin in New York City calls to tell me the shooter is Greek.As tired as I am of waking up to this news, today is different.This is in my back yard.This is a 17- year old kid who danced in the Greek Festival at his Galveston church, for Christ sake!What is wrong with this picture?What is wrong with all of these pictures?
It is 5:41, and the coverage has been continuous.Explosives have been found on campus and two other locations, but authorities report that they were not set to detonate.KHOU 11, the local CBS affiliate I’m watching, periodically breaks in with a chart divided into three columns:Verified, Still investigating, and False.By this time, you can fill in all three.
A little later, while I’m preparing dinner, the suspect appears before Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.He never raises his head as he is charged with capital murder and aggravated assault on an officer.He never raises his head as the judge reads him his rights and asks him to sign two documents attesting to the fact that he has been Mirandized and that he has requested a court-appointed attorney.He never raises his head as he is denied bond on both charges.Judge Henry describes the rampage as “Horrifying.Devastating.You never imagine it can happen here.I wish it hadn’t happened here.”
I wish it hadn’t happened at Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland and Santa Fe and everywhere in between.And anywhere else going forward.
KHOU 11, which usually Stands for Houston, now Stands for Students.
At 6PM, the first student is identified.She is 17-year old Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan.
The Astros will observe a moment of silence at tonight’s game and flags at Minute Maid Park will fly at half-staff “in support and memory of the victims and their families.”Astros manager A.J. Hinch expresses frustration at the latest school shooting in the U.S."It makes me sick," he tells reporters. "Lives are being lost for no real, good reason. There's never a good reason. Thoughts and prayers aren’t fixing the problem.”The Astros were at spring training in Florida when the Parkland shootings occurred.
The Houston Texans, in the midst of offseason workouts, say they are "saddened by the tragic events at Santa Fe High School" and pay tribute to emergency workers who responded to thetragedy.JJ Watt tweets, “Absolutely horrific.”He offers to pay for the funerals.
In the middle of the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, Chris Paul, point guard for the Houston Rockets, tweets, “We need to do better by our children.” #BiggerThanBasketball.
State representative Gene Wu tweets, "Y'all been sending thoughts and prayers for two freaking decades now. Time to try something new."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has a more direct message for Congress and the president. "Spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your job."
Four hundred people arrive for a 6:30 vigil, one of several being held tonight.Mattress Mack, who provided aid and resources to so many during Hurricane Harvey, gave free mattresses to customers when the Astros won the World Series and will probably do the same if the Rockets take the NBA finals, arrives “just to provide support on a tragic day.”He looks like he’s aged 100 years.
Mental health experts provide advice for getting children through this latest massacre.I don’t know how adults get through it, let alone kids.One student said that, though she was scared, she wasn’t surprised when shots rang out at her school.If that is our new normal, it is definitely not normal.
Last month, the NRA held its annual convention in Dallas.Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke to about 5,000 gun enthusiasts, and, according to the Texas Observer, asserted that religion and the Second Amendment are the best ways to curb gun violence and mass shootings.“The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away, the answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.”
Today he sayshe wants new gun laws "to make sure this tragedy is never repeated. We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families."The governor will begin holding roundtable discussions next week with "stakeholders to begin to work immediately on swift solutions to prevent tragedies like these from ever happening again.”Abbott says he'd been planning to roll out several proposals for new gun laws in Texas before the shooting, including "speeding up background checks" and keeping guns out of hands of those "who pose immediate danger."He hopes the roundtable discussions will involve state lawmakers, educators, Second Amendment advocates and the victims and families of shootings, perhaps including survivors of the November massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.
Forgive my skepticism, but that is quite the policy shift within two weeks of the NRA convention.This is the governor under whom the Legislature approved "campus carry" legislation, allowing concealed weapons to be carried at colleges and universities, and legalized the open carry of handguns by licensed firearms owners.
Forgive my cynicism, but if the tragedy at Santa Fe hadn’t happened, it would be business as usual in Austin.Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says that, according to the SecondAmendment, teachers, that includes my daughter and me, are part of that armed militia the Founding Fathers described.I don’t think they had me in mind.If you want to know what else Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz have to say on the subject, please look it up.I can’t repeat any more hypocrisy here.
My heart is breaking.There is something very sad when students from Columbine High School, who are now parents themselves, are commiserating with, consoling, and supporting students at Santa Fe High School, and every school in between since 1999.There is something very sad when parents bury their children after a day at school has gone terribly wrong, and nothing changes.There is something very sad when flags fly at full mast until the next time, and no one wonders why.