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The photo on the front page of the CNN website at 8:58 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, was disconcerting; it was of a place where I grew up.

Fox News, BBC America, MSNBC — the same thing.

A headline reading “Gunman opens fire at Oregon mall” was superimposed over a photo of the cinema entrance where I watched the first Spider-Man movie and griped about the shiny Hollywood-style concrete they put in when they redesigned the entrance.

The last time a place I was this familiar with ended up on the news was in 2009. That’s when an Eagle Creek man who was being evicted locked his two 300-plus-pound sows in the house for a week before the bank repossessed it. They destroyed the house.

That made the front page on a very boring news day at The Oregonian.

This is different.

Growing up in Estacada you kind of get the feeling that this sort of thing happens somewhere else — not here. Sure, we’ve got domestic violence to spare. Yeah, we all know people who dropped out of school. And it can seem like half of us face serious battles with drugs and alcohol abuse before our 21st birthdays. And we all knew someone who got pregnant in 10th grade.

But that’s different.

That happens. And it happens to people we know.

But someone walking into the mall — where I grew up, where I went Christmas shopping, where my sister worked for one eternal holiday season — and pulling out a gun?

That doesn’t happen. In my mind it can’t. At least, not here.

But it did, and the proof is everywhere.

It’s odd to see the Clackamas Town Center Mall layout spread across pages and pages of the Internet.

The mall, a place I wasn’t allowed to hang out at alone until I was 16. It’s so mundane. So Clackamas County.

We’re supposed to be famous for being bumpkins, not for mall shootings.

The awful truth is that this has been a reality for people in Colorado, Virginia, Texas and for other Americans in other cities all across the nation.

I always felt sad, shocked and bothered whenever I’d see the word “shooting” dance across the top of a news page.

“Wow, I wonder if we can help,” I’d think.

Inevitably, my thoughts would bring me home.

“I’m so glad I’m here, far away from all that. It’s been a long time since anyone did anything like that here.”

Facing it, up front and personal like this in a place so familiar to my high school years, suddenly reminds me how much we are a part of the United States.

We are not immune to the violence that is increasing across the country. We can no longer disassociate ourselves from that bitter, dark trend.

As the days and weeks unfold we’ll grieve with families; news reports will run grim expositions on what might have driven a human being to do this; a bunch of people will fight for gun control, a bunch of other people will oppose it, and eventually the Clackamas County sheriff will release a report, and the whole thing will die down. Fading slowly into history.

For now, we will pray, send good thoughts, gather as a community and mourn.

What we should not forget is that this is not an isolated incident, and that unless we take a hard look at the underlying causes, it won’t be too long before another community faces the terrifying and brutal truth that this is a national problem, and that this kind of violence has roots that run deeper than one person’s simple psychosis, and that to solve it, we need to do more than mourn.

Callie Vandewiele lives in Southeast Portland and writes a monthly column for the Gresham Outlook, Sandy Post and Estacada News.

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