April 17, 2013

Analysis: Contemplating chaos in a nation of 'soft targets'

Allen G. Breed / The Associated Press

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The Century 16 cinema east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., where James Holmes allegedly killing 12 people and injuring 70 last July.

AP

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It wasn't until the three-week spree had ended that LaRuffa learned that Lee Boyd Malvo — one of the so-called "D.C. Snipers" — was the man who'd shot him.

"It affects how I look at life and living life and enjoying life and valuing life," the 66-year-old retiree says. "But it doesn't affect me where it haunts me or I look over my shoulder or I avoid going certain places."

LaRuffa has listened to the discussions about unmanned drones patrolling U.S. skies. He sympathizes with those who argue for armed guards in every school following the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

But, he says, "We can't arm every square foot of everywhere."

"We don't want to live in a country where there ARE no soft targets," he says. "There will always be evil, and we can't get rid of it. We can try like hell to lessen it, but there are limits to what we can do and what we should do."

Kaye, the Chicago marathoner, is dealing personally with those limits. Normally, five to 10 friends and relatives gather on the finish-line grandstands to cheer her on. This year, she's telling them to stay away: "Unfortunately, I don't know that I'll feel comfortable with them watching me finish ever again."

But Dr. Paul Heath has learned that despite your best efforts to avoid it, trouble may still find you.

On April 13, 1995, the psychologist was at work in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office on the fifth floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City when a young man rang the doorbell. The man introduced himself, and Heath inquired whether he might be related to a local family with a similar-sounding name.

"Dr. Heath," he recalls the man saying, "remember my name is McVeigh, but you don't spell it 'McVay.'"

Six days later, Heath was buried up to his armpits in debris, staring out into the void created by a fertilizer bomb that Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh had parked out front. The explosion claimed 168 lives — including 19 children — and injured nearly 700 others. But it did not defeat the doctor, who helped found a survivors' association after the attack.

"We live our lives with the memory that that's possible, but we don't hide behind a wall for fear that somebody's going to do something to us," says Heath, now 77. "There have always been individuals and groups with negative objectives, and there always will be."

But, he adds, "We're still America."

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