Off the 8’s: When tragedy strikes home

“In my home … where my wife sleeps … where my children come play with their toys. In my home.” — Michael Corleone

WASHINGTON – I found a variation of that famous line from “The Godfather: Part II” repeatedly escape my lips on Saturday when I heard about the shooting at the Columbia mall.

I moved around a lot as a kid, but when people ask me where my hometown is, the answer, without hesitation, is Columbia, Md.

I lived there through most of middle school and high school. I’ve lived there twice as an adult. My mother lives within walking distance of the mall. So when I say this shooting took place in my backyard, I mean it quite literally.

I’ve gone to the Columbia mall since I was 12 years old — back when it was half the size it is now. In high school, my friends and I spent Saturday nights in the food court below the store where three young people tragically — and senselessly — lost their lives on Saturday morning.

The Sears entrance where Howard County’s finest debriefed the media on the tragedy is the very same entrance I walked through as a teenager to purchase Rec-Specs for my high school basketball team.

So it was quite surreal to see national news outlets doing live shots outside the same store I bought the glasses on my face. And to see yellow caution tape blocking the spot where I parked last week to take my daughter to the merry-go-round and buy some sneakers from Steppin’ Out Shoes.

This is my home.

This is also a reminder that there is literally nowhere we can’t be on high alert. Columbia is often viewed as a quiet, sleepy suburban utopia — the last place you’d expect a story like this to break.

That’s probably why this has gained the national traction it has.

Admittedly, I wasn’t in town when this tragedy occurred — which made it that much more difficult for me to wrap my head around the whole situation. It’s somewhat akin to someone breaking into your house while you’re away: You’ve received data regarding what’s happened, but you don’t feel the full gravity of the situation until you’ve seen the lock broken and the house in shambles.

So for my own clarity, I went back to Columbia Sunday night. I watched Howard County police cars with their lights on, patrolling the parking lots. I saw the rarest of scenes: the lot to the movie theater coned off and empty parking spaces outside The Cheesecake Factory.

TV trucks were stationed outside of the Sears I’ve known for so long.

This is my home.

But for this particular weekend, it was a crime scene. It was the focus of the nation’s sympathy, and likely another talking point for people on both sides of the gun control debate.

More importantly, it’s the place where the hearts of three area families were forever broken and where several innocent bystanders were forever changed.

Long after the doors to the Columbia mall reopen, our collective confidence will remain shaken. That confidence will return someday, but it must begin with a focus on healing and continuing to rally around each other as a community.

We have to. This is our home.

Editor’s Note: Off the 8’s is a WTOP Living feature, in which staff inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center share stories from their lives when they’re off the clock.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

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