“Columbinus,” a play about the 1998 school shooting in Colorado, was supposed to have debuted this weekend at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. For months, production had been turbulent because of the sensitive topic of gun violence in American society. Our city of Thousand Oaks had already experienced a murder-suicide at a shopping mall, and some students, including myself, were close by. Once the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the cast was prepared to postpone or cancel production altogether. Yet the show must go on.
And then the first news of the massacre at Borderline Bar & Grill appeared on Twitter, and our entire campus forfeited sleep to learn if their friends were dead or alive. The bar was popular among many of us, and it seemed unbelievable that the nonfiction subject of our play — a mass shooting — was happening in a place we all knew.
For nearly three hours, my friends and I listened to a police scanner and watched SWAT teams storm the building. Our friends trickled out of the building, each of us shouting their names as they limped away from disaster. This was all before the sun even rose.
The next morning was unlike any in my life. I couldn’t fathom leaving my dormitory and entering a new reality. The only activity outside was the wind punching trees and tossing leaves throughout the air. When I summoned the courage to leave my residence hall, I was struck by the dreadful serenity around me. Professors were speaking quietly with students, bosses comforting their employees. Our American flag flapped at half-mast. The dining hall was quiet. No jokes were exchanged between friends. The sound of sniffles, choking, and tears flooded the chapel as a fatality was confirmed, Justin Meek, an alumnus of my school. And this happened all before the afternoon.
Just ten days prior, Cal Lutheran held a vigil for the murdered at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The campus’s rabbi concluded the service hoping we would never have to convene like this again. And now Cal Lutheran has held three separate events to mourn the victims in our own neighborhood.
I hope to never experience a day like this again. But I cannot hope it into existence. It will happen again. Who would have thought that young people would be slaughtered inside a bar in the safest city in America?
I was a tour guide for Cal Lutheran, and I would always boast about Thousand Oaks’ high safety ranking in FBI statistics. Despite all the memorials, all the prayers, all the tears, how many more days until the next shooting comes to a town in America?
“It’s too soon to discuss this,” or “this is not necessary,” the critics will bark. They are right, for we will never be ready, since we average one mass shooting a day, and possess permanent grieving processes, but no periods of reflection or solution. Cal Lutheran was ready to begin the dialogue; however, instead of leading discussion, we are now stuck mourning a new tragedy.
The play has been postponed, and once it is ready to show again, another senseless act of gun violence will grip the country. Parallels are uncanny between Thousand Oaks and Columbine. The lead actor, Jacob White, who portrays Dylan Klebold, is disgusted that he tried so hard to capture Klebold’s mindset, only for a shooter possessing the same mentality to commit a similar crime.
Before the prayers are answered, another one will strike another town. The show must go on, for there will never be a proper time to show it if otherwise. The conversation must be had. For being the only developed nation that suffers from an epidemic of mass shootings, all of us need to ask why. As of now, we are still waiting for opening night.