Five people went into a SunTrust bank in Sebring, Florida, yesterday, four employees and a customer, and while they were there someone murdered them all. The suspect—“suspect” here meaning the person who called the cops and said he’d shot all the people and was arrested on the scene—was just really into the idea of killing people, according to someone who identified herself to the press as his ex-girlfriend.
Don Elwell, one of the local county commissioners, said this to the press, the New York Times reported:
“For us—I have some family in Las Vegas, where there was that big shooting, and they said, ‘We’re sorry to welcome you to our club,’” Mr. Elwell said on Wednesday, referring to a 2017 shooting that killed 59 people. “Obviously that was a different scale, but here in little Sebring it might as well be the same.”
It was reassurance: he wasn’t blowing this out of proportion; he conceded the little old murder of five people in his little old town wasn’t up there with the real big-time horrors; but still it was pretty bad to have a mass murder. Everybody’s got one, nowadays, sooner or later.
Keep it in perspective. The news cycle barely registered it. The Times put its story, with Elwell’s comments, on page A18 of today’s paper. Twenty-four hours later, there was no word on what kind of gun or guns the killer had used; two victims had been named and the other three won’t be, under Florida’s new victims’-rights law.
Maybe the press is accidentally, partially moving toward at the best practices the experts have recommended for dealing with mass shooters: don’t dwell on it, don’t cover the details, don’t give the killer the sensation he wanted to create. One key part of that plan, though, is to avoid publicizing the killer himself. Here, his name and mug shot are among the few details the press have to work with, so he ends up at the front of the stage, even as the curtains behind him are closed.
Still there are five bodies behind those curtains. They’re dead because they happened to have gone to the bank, or to be working there. Have you gone to the bank, lately? I’ve got some checks waiting to be deposited. Have you gone to work? Have you gone to a place where people work and other people walk in and out?
“Obviously, that was a different scale,” the commissioner had said. Only five dead—two fewer than the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; the same number as the Boston Massacre or the Tate murders. One more than the murder of the Clutter family. But those were a long time ago.