My grandson, a seventh-generation Coloradan, in his Batman T-shirt. He loves the masked hero, and wore his caped shirt to the Denver Zoo.
Here we go again.
Colorado, my home state, is on the world stage again because of a mass shooting that has left a dozen people dead.
I'm sure some will rush to judge Colorado harshly, and argue that we are living in the Wild West, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Coloradans are devastated that our beautiful state and shootings, death and mayhem will be associated in people's minds again.
Our Colorado should be known for its Rocky Mountain beauty, skiing and snowboarding, cycling, white-water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, and other outdoor adventure sports.
Our Colorado should be known for its Old West history, and its friendly people who welcome visitors from around the world.
Our Colorado should be known for its farming, ranching, and tourism.
Our Colorado should be known for its economy of well-prepared professionals working in high-tech startups, medical research, the aerospace industry, telecommunications, and many other fields.
Instead, people around the world are aghast at what happened in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Many can't help but remember what happened a mere 16 miles away in Littleton, Colo., 13 years ago. How can people forget the images of Columbine High School students crying in their parents' arms?
Any way you look at it, it all adds up to a grim portrait for outsiders, and it hurts and angers Coloradans that a negative focus will be put on the Centennial State because of the acts of a lone, deranged gunman who isn’t even from Colorado, and has lived among us for but a year.
I don't blame people for asking: What is going on in Colorado? Why here? Why now? Why like this?
The day of the shootings, even my own 14-year-old son asked me, “Why do shootings keep happening in Colorado?”
I assure you, this isn't our Colorado. This isn't our country. This isn’t our world. This is what I want to tell my son.
Like everyone else, we woke up to learn a gunman had burst into a movie theater and started shooting up the place.
As a trained journalist, my first instinct was to gather as many facts as possible. As a mother, I wanted to shield my son from life's harsh realities. In our media-saturated culture, that's a tall order.
Even before the Aurora shootings, I'd been truthful with my son about our state's history. He'd heard me speak of the Sand Creek Massacre, an 1864 atrocity in which 700 Colorado Territory militiamen attacked and destroyed a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, killing and mutilating as many as 163 people, most of them women and children.
My son had also heard me speak about the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, in which dozens of striking coal miners, and a group of 12 women and children died during a labor dispute that remains the deadliest in U.S. history.
Through social studies classes, and careful family discussions, he'd already learned about the 1999 Columbine Massacre in middle school.
Now, he knows about Aurora, and suspect James Holmes, a 24-year-old Californian who studied neurosciences at the University of Colorado, and my son is filled with questions for me again.
He knows I’ve made a career of asking questions, sometimes during the most difficult moments of people’s lives.
As a wire service journalist in Colorado in the 1990s and early 2000s, I covered many breaking news stories.
I was working the news desk the night JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in her family’s Boulder, Colo., basement, and watched the story slug evolve from the generic “Girl Slain” to the very personal “JonBenét.” I was working the news desk the day singer John Denver died in a plane crash off the coast of California, and the day Aron Ralston walked out of a Utah canyon.
I also covered the Chuck E. Cheese massacre in Aurora, Colo., in 1993, when a 19-year-old man walked into the pizzeria one night and shot five people, killing four, and wounding one. When I was nine months pregnant with my son, I covered a hostage standoff at a U.S. post office, and kneeled in the snow to take notes because I couldn’t get close enough to a law-enforcement official because of all of the TV cameras in his face.
When stories like this break, everyone wants details, but journalists have no other choice. They have to "work the story," gather facts, and interview experts. Sometimes journalists have to wait until after the story has played itself out to really absorb the shock and sadness that other people feel, as they watch it unfold on TV or lay flowers at an impromptu memorial site.
Stories like this are surreal when they break, while you are covering them, and long after the headlines have faded.
As journalists, the stories we cover are etched in our memories, and they haunt us long after we’ve left the trenches.
We remember going to the scene, searching for answers in the field and over the phone, and the stress and responsibility of writing stories that are well-written, factually correct, filled with details that can bring the story to life, and are filed on tight deadlines.
We remember talking to sheriff's deputies, police officers, emergency medical personnel, hospital spokespeople, politicians, coroners, witnesses, lawyers, victims and their families.
We remember asking people to share their stories, and how we felt like scumbags sometimes because we had to put them on the spot during one of the worst moments of their lives.
We remember doors slammed in our faces, people's voices cracking, and tears streaming down their distraught faces. We remember following the story over various news cycles, minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day, for as long as the story "had legs," as long as the public demanded answers.
It's a drill this country has been through far too many times. It's a drill Colorado has been through before, more than our fair share, in fact.
It’s all part of the job because, let’s face it, the public will clamor for these stories, and lots of photos and videos. It becomes part of the national healing process. Over and over again. Case after case. State after state. Country after country.
Be honest. You can blame the messenger all you want, but people demand answers when a story like this breaks.
Our children demand answers.
There is an old saying in journalism: You're only as good as your last story. Why? Because, eventually, editors and audiences will move on to the next big story, to the next big thing.
The wounds are fresh now, but the pain of this story will fade eventually, too.
For now, Colorado is grappling with shock and sadness again, and our hearts are heavy for the victims and their families.
And, yes, we feel sadness, anger and frustration that this has happened in our state again, our beautiful state.
It's not our Colorado.
This song was popular in Colorado when I was a teenager. It's appropriate for what's happening now.