It can happen here.

And on the sixth of December, it did. In the town of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, not entirely rural but not quite a suburb either, a 13-year-old student pulled a 9mm handgun from his backpack and opened fire. He was still squeezing the trigger when the school's safety officer, a science teacher, managed to subdue him. Five of his classmates were wounded.

Why did this happen? No one knows. The student, identified as Seth Trickey, offered no explanation. Nothing in his background suggested that anything like this was on the horizon. Governor Frank Keating, clueless as ever, issued a rambling, disjointed statement that first and foremost exonerated guns as a contributing factor "If a child is hell-bent on an act of evil, that child will do it whether he has possession of a knife, a rock or a firearm" and then said that the incident "must serve as a call to arms for Oklahoma's educators, parents, community and religious leaders." A call to arms? What was he thinking? He couldn't have looked any more foolish if he'd slapped his thigh and drawled, "Well, I'll be a son of a gun." Then again, he's got three more years to work on it.

The Daily Oklahoman was left with a vexing question of its own: if this is a Columbine copycat incident, how does a newspaper cover it? Doesn't massive media attention guarantee more of the same in the future? In the end, they opted for an uncomfortable but probably unavoidable compromise they devoted one-third of the front page to explaining why the story wasn't on the front page. (It was, in fact, on pages 12 and 13 of Section A.) While I normally rag on the Oklahoman, I can't really complain about the way they handled the matter.

Meanwhile, things will try to get back to normal in Fort Gibson, to the extent that they can. Where will the next angry child strike? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe better.

The Vent

8 December 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill