In the more than three years that have elapsed since our grandson Noah was murdered in Sandy Hook by a deranged young man with a gun, I have never once mentioned the hoaxers. I am only doing it today because of the contrast between the heartbreaking #EmptySeat hashtag and the noise some of the same hoaxers are making in the hours leading to President Obama’s State of the Union address, once again contesting the veracity of the Sandy Hook families.
After the violence in Paris last year, I heard two Parisian fifth-graders refer to the terrorists as des extra-terrestres sans cerveau (brainless creatures from outer space). One could argue that the hoaxers are just as brainless.
But to me, their heartlessness is what truly sets them apart. They don’t pause for a minute to think that they might be wrong and that if they are, they are committing a grievous offense against bereft families. Families who have been subjected to amputation without anesthesia. Who, in some cases, are only pulling through for the sake of their surviving kids.
After the hideous attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, an attack that left 141 people dead, including 132 school children, Noah’s picture appeared on a Pakistani newspaper’s website, soon to be picked up by the BBC and other news media around the world. I only became aware of it because someone emailed me the link, asking how come my grandson had died in Peshawar since he was supposedly already dead.
I didn’t bother to reply. Noah had died in Sandy Hook. He was never in Pakistan. The large portrait of him that the woman was holding was made from a photo I had taken with my cell phone at the Sandy Hook school exactly four weeks before the massacre, on the day of the book fair. When Noah died and the media asked for a picture, it was sent in as one of the most recent.
I don’t know why anyone held up Noah’s portrait among pictures of the Pakistani victims on the day they buried the kids in Peshawar. Unless someone reaches out to us and explains, I suppose we will never know. But it doesn’t matter. The picture was not displayed in a spirit of mockery or hatred. It was a gesture of respect and remembrance. Noah had been a victim of gun violence. So had the other kids. They all belonged together. In our hearts anyway.
Some of the hoaxers might fear that the government will come and take their guns away if they admit to the fact that guns kill. Nothing and nobody will persuade them otherwise. I won’t even try. It truly doesn’t matter whether or not they believe that Sandy Hook happened. I wish they were right and it hadn’t. But they are mistaken and it did. Their believing the contrary won’t bring back our kids or their educators.
Most gun owners don’t question Sandy Hook. They don’t need to. They know that untrammeled gun access makes our society more dangerous, not less. They keep their guns under lock and key and they believe in background checks. They are ready to do whatever common sense requires to prevent another massacre.
The gun violence debate should not be pitting victims against nutjobs. At its core it is a debate about how best to protect the lives of innocents in a society teeming with firearms, many of them military-style.
But you need to be human to understand that. Sadly the hoaxers don’t seem to qualify. Beyond the loss of lives and the grief, that is the saddest thing. Because at the end of the day, all we have is our shared humanity and the bonds that tie us to one another.