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A journalist and parent reflects on covering the Uvalde school shooting

Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd with his family on his daughters' last days of 7th grade and kindergarten. (Peter O'Dowd/ Here & Now)
Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd with his family on his daughters' last days of 7th grade and kindergarten. (Peter O'Dowd/ Here & Now)

My kids finished 7th grade and kindergarten yesterday.

We took a picture in the front yard as we have the past few years. When I compare what they looked like on the first day of school, my heart grows a size for each of them.

But like many Americans, the overwhelming feeling I had this week was of despair because again we have found ourselves asking a question that no parent should ever know the answer to: What if my babies don’t come home from school?

Our collective despair as a country will never be equal to the horror that 21 families in Uvalde are feeling today. They woke up on Wednesday morning and knew the answer to that awful question. I used to think my work as a journalist could help in situations like this. I used to think it could break down the barriers that people have when they disagree about something big like guns, abortion or immigration. And I’m not sure at all about that anymore.

Instead, I am left to repeat the same conversations we had after Sandy Hook. After Las Vegas. After San Bernardino. Dayton.  Pittsburgh. Atlanta. Tucson. El Paso. Orlando.

After each of those massacres and countless others, journalists went out and asked the same questions of the same experts, wrote down the same responses from mostly the same politicians and visited a different set of grieving families.

How could this happen? We’d ask, as if for the first time. How can it stop? These are questions I don’t want to ask anymore, if the answers will never come.

And how could it be that the only question that’s easy to answer is, what happens if my baby never comes home from school?

I’ll never forget the day this week that I read on air the names of the children and teachers who died together in that 4th-grade classroom in Uvalde. When the microphone was finally off, I put my head down on the desk and prayed that my children’s names would never be on such a list.

I’m afraid that’s all that I can do.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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