Jon Stevens

Sad signs of our times

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I am trying to remember when the world began to spin out of control, when the lunatic fringe, motivated by hate and anger and armed with automatic weapons and bombs, took away all semblance of an age of innocence.


I grew up in a time when everything seemed safe, when you could walk to school without fear of being snatched up by a child predator, when you could go to school without being afraid of being gunned down in a classroom.


It was a time when you could play outside until dark, never fearful of anything but the dark. But I am sure bad things did happen; I just wasn't aware they did.


Then, on Nov. 22, 1963, while sitting in a high school French class, I heard that the president of the United States was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. This was the beginning of the end to my age of innocence, as it was for many people.


Events that followed seemed unimaginable to a teenager watching the country mourn and trying to cope with the assassination of the 35th president.




Five years later, John F. Kennedy's brother, Robert, was killed by Sirhan Sirhan, and Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death by James Earl Ray. And all the while the war in Vietnam was tearing this country apart.


Innocence lost was not confined to the decade of the 1960s. While the Watergate scandal may define the 1970s, violence again reared up when in 1980 Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, and a year later, John Hinkley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.


Could the worst be over? Not by a long shot. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh, an American militia movement sympathizer detonated an explosive-filled Ryder rental truck parked in front of the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others.


Four years later, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School and murdered 12 students and one teacher. They injured 24 additional students.


Schools across the country began implementing stricter security measures. Security guards began walking the halls and cameras recorded the comings and goings of all visitors. Sometimes these measures worked. Sometimes they didn't.


Then, of course, there was Sept. 11, 2001, when Islamic extremists hijacked three airplanes and used them as weapons of mass destruction.


The world was indeed spinning out of control and continues to do so.


Just watch an evening Pittsburgh newscast. It seems each day there is a story about a shooting, most likely precipitated by drug-related activity.


Unfortunately, those days of innocence, if, in fact, they really were, are long over. Feeling safe in your own home was something we could always take for granted. Doesn't seem that way anymore.


I am sure 10-year-old Ta'Niyah Thomas thought she was safe sleeping in her bedroom at 3:50 a.m. Well, she wasn't.


For the first time in its history, the Greene County Courthouse installed security checkpoints at two entrances to the building. Sheriff Brian Tennant said, “It's unfortunate, but in today's world, it has become a necessary evil.”


Yes, it has.



Jon Stevens is the Greene County bureau chief. He can be reached at jstevens@observer-reporter.com.


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