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Thursday, 26 March, 1998, 17:46 GMT
Coming to terms with tragedy
Craighead County prosecutor Brent Davis faces up to the world's media
Craighead County prosecutor Brent Davis faces up to the world's media
It is the natural reaction of society after a tragedy such as the shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to ask itself how it can stop it happening again.

But long before new laws can be considered, communities such as Jonesboro, which become the focus of world attention, have to sort out how they are going to cope with their shock.

Martin Bryant, who went on the rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania
Martin Bryant, who killed tourists and holidaymakers in Port Arthur, Tasmania
The list of towns which have been hit by such tragedies comes readily to mind - Hungerford, Port Arthur, Dunblane - with dozens more incidents where the death toll is not large enough to confer such notoriety.

The scenes of previous massacres have, like Jonesboro's, often been small tight-knit communities, which are of necessity brought closer together by their tragedy.

And the question towns such as Hungerford and Dunblane are then forced to ask themselves is how have they been home to someone who turned out to be a killer. After Dunblane, the Church of Scotland set up a counselling service specifically to help residents come to terms with what had happened.

After a shooting in Raurimu in New Zealand last year in which six people died, members of the tiny community huddled together in a classroom at the village school, to avoid reporters.

Jonesboro's initial reaction has echoed that of previous massacres. Parents raced to the school as the emergency vehicles sped to the scene: partly to find out whether their child was all right, but also to share their horror. The night after the deaths a vigil was held, and people are still gathering for mutual support.

Definite pattern

The Los Angeles Times reported that even among the scenes of American shootings, a definite pattern was emerging.

In Pearl, Mississippi, where Luke Woodham, 16, killed two students and injured seven, residents wore gold ribbons on their lapels. In Paducah, Kentucky, where Michael Carneal, 14, killed three members of a prayer group, residents wore white ribbons. Now in Jonesboro, residents are wearing white ribbons.

Intrusion on grief

Turning on the media, objecting to what they see as intrusion on grief, has also been a common factor of responses. Reporters have been asked to leave the grounds of Westside Middle School.

Arkansas prosecutor Brent Davis analysed the community's feelings: "There's always a search at this stage for a logical explanation. I seriously doubt there will be a logical explanation at this stage for what occurred."

People's need to make some personal response is well-known, whether this is laying flowers at the scene, leaving teddy bears, wearing ribbons or donating money. One Arkansas radio station has been organising a collection for families of the victims.

But in the long term, the call for legislation - whether for tighter gun laws, metal detectors at schools or any of a number of ideas - could be what counts.

See also:

25 Mar 98 | Americas
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
29 Mar 98 | Talking Point
26 Mar 98 | Despatches
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | US shooting
26 Mar 98 | Americas
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