by Chris Canniff
Last Monday, September 16, a lone gunman killed 12 people and wounded eight more at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. The man, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, was a former Navy reservist with a checkered past of minor infractions of the law relating to violence. He had also been discharged from the Navy in 2011 for a “pattern of misbehavior.”
Just after 8 a.m., Alexis gained entry to the secure facility where he was serving as a subcontractor on an information technology project through a subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard. He was armed with three weapons – an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and a semiautomatic pistol. Officials were uncertain whether he had brought all of those with him or whether he had obtained them after gaining access to the facility.
He shot down from above on employees who were seated in an atrium eating breakfast, and according to officials, this was where most of the damage was done. The employees who were in the cafeteria at that time later described the chaos that ensued as people looked for a way to escape.
Responding police officers exchanged gunfire with Alexis, who was shot to death. Video surveillance indicated the possibility of two other gunmen on the premises, but this was later determined to be inaccurate. No motive is yet known behind Alexis’ violent rampage.
Later that afternoon, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for Military Services USA and a Boston College alumnus of the class of 1973, issued a statement about the day’s events.
“With all people of good will, I am shocked and deeply saddened by the terrible loss of life this morning at the Navy Yard. I have often visited and celebrated the Eucharist there. It is a familiar place. I also prayed for the victims, the wounded, and their families at the noon Mass at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. Somehow we must restore the notion of respect for life into the fabric of the Nation. When the uniqueness of the human person created in the image and likeness of God is universally recognized, the possibility of a mass shooting is more remote.”
Last Monday’s events hearken back to the shooting at the military base at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009 when 13 people were killed and more than 30 were wounded. Since that time and since the more recent events in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, the American episcopacy has been encouraging the implementation of stricter gun control laws to reduce the occurrence of these violent mass shootings.
As Archbishop Broglio notes in his statement of last Monday, in addition to the step of effecting changes to the laws involving gun ownership, a cultural transformation is paramount. A respect for the dignity of human life and the divine origins of each human person must be universally acknowledged. By addressing the issue in the context of sin, the failure to love God and neighbor, bishops hope to solve the issue at its core.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, also released a statement that day encouraging prayer, which he called “our most valuable tool” in times of crisis. Cardinal Wuerl celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle the day after the shootings “to invoke God’s embrace of those who died, and for the consolation of families, healing for those injured, and for the community.”