Whenever there's a mass shooting of the sort that burst out at the Fort Hood military base in Texas yesterday, the vast majority of people who lived in the Denver area in 1999 immediately flash back to what happened at Columbine High School that April. It's not a choice. It's an involuntary response that lingers whether or not there are parallels between the new incident and Columbine -- which, in this case, there are.
A similar number of dead (thirteen thus far in Texas, thirteen not counting the shooters at Columbine). A similar number of wounded (news outlets report 31 in Texas; 24 at Columbine). An institutional setting that seemed extremely safe. Early confusion about additional conspirators (at Fort Hood, two soldiers thought to have possibly been in cahoots with suspect Major Nidal Malik Hasan -- originally said to be dead, although he's still alive at this writing -- were reported to have been taken into custody; Hasan's now being identified as the lone gunman). Warning signs that were ignored (this morning, NPR told about a Hasan lecture on the Koran a few years back that left attendees wondering if he might freak out and kill a lot of people). Suspicious Internet posts (perhaps including one by Hasan that seemed to praise Islamist suicide bombers).
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Yes, these are coincidences -- but that doesn't make the emotions they spark any less profound. Ten years after Columbine, I've still been unable to make myself read a book about the shootings by Dave Cullen, an acquaintance of mine. And the first report I heard about Fort Hood instantly transported me back to that terrible time. I suspect I'm not alone.