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March 1993

Life Will Never Be the Same: Violence in Rural America

Am J Dis Child. 1993;147(3):264. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1993.02160270026010

It was an overcast fall morning in upstate New York when a distraught man entered the county offices of the Department of Social Services in my hometown (population, 2200) and killed four innocent child-support workers (The New York Times. October 17, 1992:27L). Two hours before, while I drove to work, my thoughts drifted to the expectation of spending the following week in that idyllic setting where our family had been in the same home for a century. The prospect of visiting there evoked Proustian feelings of the peace, serenity, and connectedness I had known when I was once so much a part of that community.1 Over the years, visits to the village had proven renewing, after having lived in the hustle and bustle of academic life in the city.

That peace was forever shattered on that gray day. When initially we heard that there had been a shooting and there had been several victims, many strange and frightening feelings emerged: Was our elderly mother who lived a few blocks away from the site of the tragedy safe? Were the schoolchildren one block away in our former school safe? Would further news reveal that other innocent people had been killed? How can this be? A telephone call to our mother was at first reassuring; the gunman had shot himself. I immediately felt a sense of relief, then profound sadness at the tragedy and travesty befallen the residents of this once peaceful place. The details of the shootings were still unknown; it turned out that the gunman, a native of the area, was unhappy about the county's seeking childsupport payments for 26 years and

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