It was a rainy Saturday morning two years ago in Pittsburgh when my former Red Cross colleagues and I received the call to respond to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre.
Within two hours of that call, we found ourselves in a large room with the families of those who had missing loved ones – people who were awaiting to hear news, any news. It would be hours – many long and agonizing hours – before they learned that their loved ones were all deceased, killed by a mad man while attending a church service – let me repeat that… killed while attending a church service.
That day will live with me forever. As I said last year… I will not watch the news today. I do not need to see the footage – I was there. I lived through what was happening behind the scenes. I witnessed the raw emotions and other things that will never be known to anyone beyond those of us who were there.
I am still haunted, and will always be haunted, by how hatred can manifest itself; how the divisive and hurtful rhetoric that we continue to hear can make people who are already on the fringe do unthinkable things.
That night, two years ago, I came back home relatively late from a terribly emotional work day. I went to my beer fridge… grabbed a drink… sat in my recliner… and I cried.
Tonight… I might just do the same thing.
Original Facebook Post from the night of October 27, 2018:
This morning while out running errands, I received a text from a friend who lives in Kentucky asking me what’s happening in Pittsburgh. I responded, “Rainy day, out doing errands,” since I thought it was just some friendly banter.
Within minutes of him responding to tell me about the shooting, my work phone began to go off. Within two hours, I was on scene with the families who were waiting to hear if their missing loved ones were injured or deceased.
I’ve been to a lot of disaster scenes since I joined the Red Cross. None have been as emotionally draining as being in the room with the families of those “missing” as we all listened to the FBI and local authorities share what information they could.
Only now, this many hours later, are the families learning the fate of their loved ones – agonizing hours of waiting, followed by the worst possible news imaginable. Many Red Cross and Allegheny County mental health workers – true saints – there with them to help ease the pain. Other volunteers, from the Red Cross, JCC and the Salvation Army (to name a few), working together to provide what comfort we could…
Tonight I pray for those who perished, those who are fighting for their lives, and their families. I often say when I do media interviews that disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. Today, the unthinkable happened here… to our neighbors.
I am sickened by the pervasive caustic rhetoric and hate-filled speech that seems to be empowering people on the brink to do these evil acts. When, as a nation, will we learn? When, as a nation, will we come together to celebrate our differences and support one another?