Saturday, October 17th. A patchy overcast settles over the Wyoming Valley. But even on the cloudiest days, enough sunlight comes through and bounces off the golden coating of Wal-Mart, making it the one building you’re bound to notice if you’re driving along Interstate 81. It is 12:30 and an influx of patrons are rushing through the automatic doors. On the side of the store is the Lawn and Garden section where, as early as a month prior, would have been filled with customers taking advantage of the sales on garden soil and manure. Adjacent to the store, a Chuck E Cheese and a Wine and Spirits shop, where children and adults alike reward themselves for surviving another trip to Wal-Mart. In a few seconds, an enraged man is about to bring all the scary stories you hear on the news, about a crazed gunman who finally went berserk, home.
Scott Sargent fired randomly in the air before taking aim at police officers. He was shot in the stomach and apprehended by police. Local and national news covered the story. It even got a brief clipping on ABC News. Once the shooter was identified, the local news went through the motions of finding people that knew the shooter. “Oh no.” They said. “He seemed like a nice guy. I couldn’t imagine him doing anything like this” among other things that people say about every violent offender.
Two days later, Wal-Mart closed their doors early, at around 10:30. At least three squad cars were outside the doors escorting the last customers out and refusing entry to those wanting to come in. Once the last of the customers were chased out, the doors were locked and the police were still kept on standby. I was here, working until eleven that night. I was not informed of the early closing.
“Is this a precautionary measure after what happened Saturday?” I asked.
“No. This is a separate emergency.” The officer answered, looking away from me and scanning the almost empty parking lot.
I didn’t get anything after that. I speculated that, in light of Saturday’s events, a copycat threatened to replicate it with human casualties. Once eleven rolled around, an officer unlocked one of the doors and those workers leaving at eleven were herded out in a group to their cars, most of which were clustered in the back of the barren parking lot. They looked around with their heads up, half laughing at the thought of a police escort and half expecting to hear concentrated pop-pop-pops followed by chaotic shrieks. I got to my car and split, thinking of how dystopic the whole situation was. Sealed in a supercenter, armed guards at the doors, managers and officers alike watching the security cameras for anything suspicious, while hapless customers and workers are directed around like cattle, not in charge of our fates.
What happened that Saturday was, in the grand scheme of random public shootings, tame. The only wounded party was the shooter. But it raises a question that seems to only confound me; what do we do? For at least the next couple days, I imagine Wal-Mart will continue their trend of locking early. The police will stand guard until everyone forgets what happened. But what if it happens again? The obvious conclusion that most people reach is gun control; making it more difficult for bad people to get guns. But if drugs and alcohol are any indication, people will always be able to get their hands on seemingly unobtainable things. Do we hire more police? More security in general? How much are we, the people, willing to give up to feel ‘safe’ and will it even matter? The sad reality is that bad things are always going to happen. All we can do is try to see the inherent instability in people before they lose themselves and we find ourselves saying “He/She seemed like a nice guy/girl. I couldn’t imagine them doing anything like that.”