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Aurora and a Mother’s Memories of Columbine

This is the fear every parent knows.

We’ll have innocently sent our children off to school or to a movie, or like the parents of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, allowed them to go off with a neighbor to meet a local congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, and then…the phone call will come and we’ll be told there is a dead body where there was once a life we valued more than anything in the entire universe.

Today, it happened in Aurora, Colo., where a man, identified by police as James Holmes, 24, entered a packed midnight screening of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” and pulled out a gun. There were children in the theater. It was a special treat, you see, a night out to see one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year.

As of right now, there are 12 dead and more than 50 reported wounded. Many are probably children and teens, and many others probably in their early 20s, still children, really. A witness saw a police officer carrying the body of a little girl, maybe 9 years old, out of the theater. Elsewhere, it has been reported that six of the shooting victims were being treated at a nearby children’s hospital and that one of those released by another hospital was, depending on reports, 3 or 4 months old.

I’m sure you – like me — can’t stop thinking about the mothers of those children, and the horror and pain they are experiencing, something that will have no end, not ever, because this is the worst thing that can happen to a parent, the thing we fear more than anything, the reason we insist on car seats and toilet bowl locks, all in the hopes we can keep the angry fates at bay, so we are not the ones at the other end of that phone call, not ever.

But I am also thinking about another group of mothers. Let me explain. I was pregnant in 1999 and, without thinking, I can reel off the day I discovered I was having a boy. It was April 20. I know, because there was a two-hour backup at the Cedars-Sinai hospital testing facility in Los Angeles where I had gone to have my genetic counseling session and my first ultrasound. On the television in the waiting room: live coverage of the Columbine shooting.

There must have been close to a dozen pregnant women sitting in the room with me, and we all silently watched the television. No one spoke. No one made eye contact. No one got up and changed the channel. We all just sat there silently, all clutching our bellies, till, one by one, we were called in for our appointments. Thirteen people died at Columbine High School that day, most of them children, the same day I found that what I thought was a Samantha was a Jake instead.

Today, I am thinking I should have exchanged telephone numbers with the women waiting with me on April 20, 1999. We could have formed a group. Mothers of Cedars-Sinai I call my imaginary political action committee. We could have begun to speak out about what it was like to be carrying a life in our bodies while watching other mother’s children being carried dead out of a school building.

Here is the thing: These shootings, they are not accidents, not random events. The children of Aurora, like the children in Columbine, died because we don’t value our sons and daughters enough to do something about the proliferation of guns – both legal and illegal – in American life.

When are going to say enough?