People who share suffering help us all

  • Jim Slusher

    Jim Slusher

Posted4/15/2021 1:00 AM

Sometimes, there is one especially important thing you must say to people who open up about tragedies that storm uninvited into their lives.

Thank you.


This is true enough when people have lost a home to fire or a family member to an accident or crime. It may be even more true in a case like that of Steinar Andersen, Bret McNamara and others who were at the scene of a notorious shooting in Elgin 20 years ago that left two people dead, 16 injured and countless others traumatized. After struggling for two decades to heal physical and mental wounds, these victims have no personal incentive to revisit the event with newspaper reporters. Sometimes they do so anyway. When that happens, as in the case of the killings at JB's Pub in 2001 that were the subject of a story Sunday by our James Fuller, we can get a picture that doesn't just remind us of a historical event but gives us insights about our own time and our lives.

Among the many such insights from Fuller's story is recognition of how much has changed since that mass shooting. And how little. Such cases were rare in 2001. Today, a Wikipedia website lists at least 126 mass shootings in the United States just through the first three months of 2021. Just in the past month, fatal rampages in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, have drawn national attention. As we all know very well, almost nothing has been done in 20 years to try to prevent such horrors.

But even more striking than the social and political implications of these events, Fuller's story -- or more accurately, Andersen's and McNamara's story and that of the other people touched by the JB's Pub tragedy -- shows vividly the long-term human toll such cases impose. Andersen's wife Penny, who was seriously injured in the shooting cried nearly every day for two years and often couldn't leave the house. The Andersens' marriage suffered, and Steiner Andersen, of Huntley, says he is only now, four years after Penny's death from cancer, beginning to come to grips with the rage that night instilled. McNamara, now of Texas, described 10 years of nightmares and flashbacks. Bill Wolf, then an Elgin detective and now chief of police in Schaumburg, is haunted by memories of the scene and the survivors.

In seeking interviews for this remembrance, Fuller found at times that reviving their trauma often wasn't the only reason some survivors were reluctant. Many feared publicity would attract renewed notoriety to the shooter, now serving a life sentence in prison. The shooter's name and picture became well known in the suburbs at the time as his case wound through the court system. But sensitive to victims' concerns and consistent with our own policy that has evolved as these cases have grown more common, Fuller's story focused on the survivors. It named the shooter only once and then deep into the narrative and only to provide context for readers who remember the case.

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There are reasons such stories need to be told, and sometimes retold. They help us understand our own times and our humanity. They remind us why confronting complicated, uncomfortable problems is important. They show us that each of those 126 mass shootings this year -- like the hundreds that preceded them and the hundreds likely to follow -- produces waves of anguish that ripple through the intimate, private worlds of everyday people for the rest of their lives. Showing us all that is a lot to ask of the people whom we sometimes ask and who are sometimes willing to share their suffering with the world. Like the events that disheveled their lives, they did not ask for this and they do not deserve the pain it brings. So, it seems that the least we can do is to tell them we are sorry for their pain.

And to say thank you.

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