The Times West Virginian

May 19, 2013

We change — at least a little — after each attack

Times West Virginian

— How well do we remember the world as it was before 9/11?

Do we remember what airline security was like? Life before the Patriot Act? What was the school environment like before school shooting at Columbine and Sandy Hook?

What about the bombing that killed three and injured 200 bystanders at last month’s Boston Marathon? How will it change the way we do things? How will the way we feel change?

“The vast majority of people recover quite well in a matter of weeks and months, even from direct exposures,” Terence M. Keane, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University told the college publication BU Today. “Even if somebody was down at the finish line and even if they’re very shaken by the experiences, they are likely to recover in a relatively short period of time. The trajectory for most people is recovery and return to normalcy.”

But is it a “new” normal? After every attack — shooting at movie theaters, shootings at elementary schools, bombings at highly public events — we change a little. We trust a little less. Security beefs up. Laws change.

And something that may not get much attention before the events suddenly gets everyone’s attention.

In Marion County, following December’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, some things said on Facebook disrupted classes at a local high school. Officials were quick to move to determine the credibility and threat level of a post, but it seemed to spiral out of control before it was resolved, especially on social media. And just this month, there was information from a juvenile put out on social media, which was determined to be a credible threat of harm to himself or others. Several schools in Marion County, including Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College, were affected, as well as schools in Harrison County. The heightened security immediately caused a frenzy online of rumors and speculation, fear and panic, half truths and misinformation. The situation was resolved, with the boy being taken into custody after several hours with no incident.

But we were all affected, gripped by fear. And watching news feeds and posts did nothing more than add fuel to that fire. It begs the question, “Do you feel like we as a society overreact in the aftermath of mass shootings and bombings?” Do we fear we’ll be the next small town that makes national news in the wake of tragedy?

We asked our readers to respond to that question on our online poll question last week, which is found at And here’s what you had to say:

• We cannot let our guard down and should learn from gaps in security — 30.12 percent.

• Each act of violence and our reaction chips away at civil liberties and lets the terrorists win — 31.33 percent.

• We should react to credible threats, but what’s been happening lately is a frenzy fed by social media — 38.55 percent.

We should reflect a little about how we respond, what we post online and how we can make sure that keeping safe doesn’t have to mean living in panic.

This week, let’s talk about a recent study that shows West Virginia is in part of an area with an abnormally high number of fatalities from traffic accidents. How should we fix that?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor