On Friday morning at 9:30, I was walking into Thomasville Head Start to take pictures of a high school senior for an upcoming story.

I walked into the classroom and found Ka'Liah Dalton sitting among maybe a dozen 3-year-olds, reading a Christmas book. I left a few minutes later and went up the street to Thomasville Primary School to snap a picture of senior Tahlia Hughes. I checked in at the front desk and was told the way to go, which took me down a hallway past a row a children who appeared ready for art class. When I saw Tahlia she was sitting at a table coloring with a beautiful little girl who, when I asked how old she was, held up four tiny fingers.

I got back to the office about an hour later and started hearing about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. By the time I left for the day, the magnitude of the situation had become a terrifying reality — 26 people, including 20 children, were senselessly murdered in yet another mass shooting that has become entirely too commonplace in our society.

Like most parents, this tragedy struck me incredibly hard. I picked my daughter up from school and tried not to seem overly concerned or distressed. About an hour later, just out of blue, my daughter came up and gave me one of those special hugs every parent loves — both arms wrapped tightly around your neck with legs around your waist. I told her I loved her, walked into the bathroom and cried, knowing how many parents less than 700 miles away would never feel that again.

I thought about all the little faces I had seen earlier in the day, how precious and innocent they were. How happy I was that young women like Ka'Liah and Tahlia were spending time with them and being such great role models. The more I thought about my day, the more the day didn't make any sense.

What has our country turned into?

As President Barack Obama read the names of the victims Sunday night, he mentioned an Emiliie, 6,  and a Allison, 6. My family has a Emili and a Alison. They are my sisters and I love them both very much. They have both grown into beautiful, smart women with kids of their own, a path in life 20 children will never have due to the acts of an evil murderer.

Many debates can be made over why Friday morning happened. Whether it's gun control or identifying mental health disorders, I don't have the answers. I'm only a journalist with a forum provided to me by the Thomasville Times. This tragedy touches on many sensitive subjects that need more time than this column. 

What I do know is this senseless killing has got to stop.

Our country has lost its way. We have become disconnected with what really matters in this world. How many more people have to die at the movies, the mall or in a elementary school before we, as a country, as human beings, stand up and take real action to prevent something like this from happening again?

I did not vote for Obama, but I have never been more supportive of a president than I am right now.

We can't keep doing this. We can't keep lighting candles and trying to figure out why something happens after the fact.

Does it really matter why this person killed 26 people? Will finding out why bring any of them back? Will it change the fact an entire town lost a generation two weeks before Christmas? The fact dozens of presents will never be opened and dozens more children now have to live the rest of their lives as survivors of this horrific event. The only thing that does matter is stopping another shooting from happening. Stopping the violence that is now targeting our children.

Our schools should not be turned into fortified prisons. People should be allowed to own guns. Not every 15-year-old boy who plays Call of Duty should be labeled as troubled, but something has got to give.

Too many people feel hopeless, too many people feel like no one cares. Maybe our society has become so self-absorbed that it's now just easier to think only of ourselves until something like Friday morning happens, then rally around each other in a time of crisis.

Why do people always wait until evil strikes to show their capacity for good? What is holding us back from reaching out to one another and expressing love?

I believe in love. I believe in people. I believe in Kisses4Kate and Elijah Gaddy. I believe there is enough good in this world to overcome evil. I know I'm not alone, but am I in minority? Am I one of the few who believes in hope?

I hope not.

How many more times will we go through this? How many more small towns will turn into battlegrounds where children are cast into the theater of war? How many more parents will have to bury their children before our country comes together and develops a strategy to combat a rising epidemic where someone callously kills for no apparent reason?

I read once that it takes a tribe to raise a child. A community only is as good as the sum of all of its parts. We no longer have the luxury of turning the other way. Friday has to be the line in the sand. The time has come to take affirmative action, whatever that may be.

This isn't about police or school systems hiring armed guards. This is about people caring for one another. It's about living in peace and being able to raise our children without the constant threat of violence lurking around every corner.

We should never fear sending our children to school or going to the movies or the mall. That's not what this country or its people is about.

We're better than this and it's time everyone started showing what we're capable of. If we can't even protect our own children, what does that say about us as a whole?

I believe in love. I believe in God and that through Him we can all realize this beautiful capacity for good that is innate in all of us.

Now is the time for us to make a difference. If not for us, for beautiful little girls who hold up four fingers when you ask them how old they are.    

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com




Vigil Tuesday night

Three Thomasville women — Ashley Ashley, Crystal Landreth and Diana Landreth — have organized a vigil to memorialize victims of the school shooting in Connecticut.

The vigil will be held at 8:30 p.m. today at the Big Chair. The rain date is Wednesday, the same time.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own candles