Caught in the crossfire of gun violence

Eight nights ago, shots rang out at Lakota Middle School. One young man shot another to death in the parking lot as parents picked up their kids from Pee Wee football practice.

Coincidentally, I had driven by the school on Dash Point Road, just minutes before. The parking lot looked like it always does when practice lets out. All was normal.

My wife, youngest daughter and I were on our way home after the conclusion of the Friends of the Hylebos’ annual picnic at the West Hylebos Wetlands. It had been a wonderful evening.

The weather, which has been so fickle this summer, was fantastic. It was so warm that the canopy we’d rented in case of rain had turned out to be needed for shade. I’d enjoyed a hearty potluck dinner and even snuck two of those Metropolitan Market mini-brownies that I love (before my daughter chided me not to hog the desserts).

Most of all, I’d seen many old friends and enjoyed the pleasure of fellowship and happy conversation.

There was nothing in the evening to suggest that a young man was going to die, not that there ever is. According to news reports, police believe there had been previous disagreement between the shooter and the victim. Somewhere else, at a different time, the two men had words, or perhaps a fight. The details will eventually come out as the shooter moves through the criminal justice system.

What’s important to me right now is not the details of their beef with each other, but how it was settled: With a gun.

It’s a depressing fact that there is no place in America where we can consider ourselves safe from gun violence. But Federal Way has always seemed to be safer than the average city.

It’s certainly a safer place than Birmingham, Ala., a city of 230,000 that last month hit its 56th homicide. In the New York Times, I read a wrenching portrayal of that Southern city’s 55th homicide, a 17-year-old girl named LaWanda Russell, whose life ended when she was caught in the crossfire between two sets of feuding neighborhood kids: Her boyfriend and two brothers who’d lived next door all her life.

The young lady became an accidental victim, cut down by indiscriminate gunfire of an AK-47, as young men attempted to settle a disagreement with an automatic rifle.

The cruel irony is that in their anger, three people who loved LaWanda ended up killing her. Though the weapons were different, my mind reels at the potential for innocent bystanders to have been accidentally maimed or killed by stray bullets at Lakota Middle School last week.

So, what does Birmingham have to do with Federal Way? While reading about the mounting homicides in Birmingham, I realized that community had somewhere along the way reached a tipping point with gun violence. Settling a beef with a firearm had become commonplace and all too easy.

This isn’t a call for gun control or an argument against it. I’ll let others make the political arguments. While Federal Way is a long way from Birmingham, it does seem that the shootings are beginning to add up.

In July, a disagreement at the Dash Point Apartments led to the shooting death of a 20-year-old man. In January, a 38-year-old was shot to death at the Transit Center.

Last summer, a teenage girl — an innocent bystander — was paralyzed after being struck by a bullet in Steel Lake Park as a group gathered to watch a fight.

These are still just isolated incidences. But where does that tipping point lie between a small but unacceptable number of shooting deaths — and something much worse? Is it 10 gun homicides, or 20 drive-by shootings?

I pray to God we never find out.

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos, a nonprofit conservation organization working to preserve and restore Hylebos Creek and the West Hylebos Wetlands. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org.

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