Is that the only question that matters? When something as senseless and shocking as what happened in Coralville over the weekend happens, is that the only meaningful question?
If so, why do I find myself asking so many others?
Is it logical for me to find this shooting, one like so many others that happen on a daily basis, more shocking because it happened in location I’ve been so many times myself? If not logical, is it at least understandable?
Is it true that what set the murderer off that he was fired from his job because of a complaint that he was continually sexually harassing the victim?
Does it give me a sense of grim satisfaction that the guy seems to have been a rabid gun lover with a Facebook page filled with pro-military, pro-gun, anti-immigrant rhetoric? Does this help me wrap my brain around the event because it somehow “makes sense” in my own world view for the person who did these acts to fit that profile? Do I dare answer that question?
Was the murderer someone in the thrall of a patriarchal culture? If this indeed is the case, what are we to make of the fact that he recently got married and apparently took his wife’s last name? Is there anything we can make of this in terms of the intertwining of patriarchy, misogyny, and cultural constructs of masculinity?
Was the murderer mentally ill? Does a definition of “mentally ill” that does not cover the need to mindfully drive home, get a semiautomatic handgun, drive back, and murder an innocent young woman really qualify as an adequate definition? But if we chalk this action up to mental illness or emotional disturbance, do we undercut the importance of personal autonomy and responsibility? And how do we define *those* qualities, anyway?
Is my gut-level reaction to this affected by the fact that the victim was a young, pretty woman? Would I feel the same way if the victim was older? Ugly? Male? If the genders of the people involved were flipped, would it strike me on a visceral level as less tragic? Are my reactions shaped by cultural attitudes? And, if so, is my own emotional reaction just as much a product of patriarchy as the misogyny of the perpetrator? Am I forced to see the event through the lens of gender constructs? Is it simply a choice of which parts of those constructs I choose to see it through? Or is the word “choice” here even appropriate?
Why do people feel the need to own semi-automatic guns? Is there any purpose to these besides the quick and efficient killing of human beings? Did the murderer buy the gun because he reflected carefully and sincerely felt it provided necessary protection? Or was owning the gun a symbolic act that satisfied some emotional lack or need? Given the objective evidence that owning a gun, no matter how it’s stored, significantly increases the likelihood of someone dying violently in the household, is there such a thing as a truly careful and reflective decision to bring a gun into one’s home?
What did the murderer think when he was driving down I-80? Did he feel regret? Remorse? Satisfaction? Or was he simply numb?
What did the sky look like as he drove toward Davenport?
What does it feel like to know that, for all practical purposes, your life is over, even though you may live for 50-60 years?
Did the victim ever know what was happening to her? Was there time? Was she scared?
Is it true that she was particularly fond of the turtle exhibit at the Children’s Museum where she worked? Do turtles have any sense of who works with them? Will they on some level sense her absence? Did the turtles hear the gunshots? Can turtles hear at all? And why do I find such trivial questions going through my head?
What would she have done with her life? How will other people’s lives be different because she’s not in it? Is it even possible, outside the world of Hollywood schmaltz, to answer such a counterfactual question? How can the flapping of a butterfly’s wings end up creating a hurricane on the other side of the world?
Are any of these questions even worth asking? Or is there only a single question that all of these can be reduced to . . . one unanswerable question?