December 14, 2012

We’ve been here before. A breaking news report about gunshots at a school. We’re used to hearing about high schools, colleges and universities on lockdown because of a madman or men targeting the innocent. Think Columbine, Virginia Tech. But what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., this morning was frighteningly different.

In Columbine or Virginia Tech — or in the countless shootings at schools around the country that get far less attention — it was someone from within the school community who turned violence on their fellow students. Not at Sandy Hook.The gunman allegedly walked in from the outside. He reportedly entered the kindergarten classroom where his mother taught and opened fire. In all 27 people, 20 children and seven adults, were killed at the school. The children ranged in age from 5 to 10 years old.

Schools are supposed to be safe spaces. Increasingly they rarely are. But elementary schools have always been viewed as sacrosanct. Not only because the little ones inside couldn’t possibly do something so evil as mass murder, but also because we never thought for a minute that a stranger would target such a place for carnage.

This massacre is unlike anything we have seen in a long time, if ever. The horror of this moment, the power this tragedy has on our nation was made plain in the emotional statement by President Obama. Rare is the time a president sheds tears, rarer still this president. But when a madman singles out lives so young and so innocent for murder, how could he not? How could we not? 

“Our hearts are broken today,” the president said, speaking for all of us. 

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.