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February 19, 2008

The Clark Kent-ing of the American Hero.[krakatoa]

The NIU shooting was a tragedy that can not be diminished nor dismissed, and in writing this, I in no way want to imply any less of those involved.

But this article on ESPN by Adam Rittenberg really bothers me -- not the article itself, which, with the exception of one passage, is a gritty telling of what some experienced -- but the sub-heading to the article-link from the front page:

Call To Action

Amidst the chaos of Thursday's shootings at Northern Illinois are stories of heroism. OG Tim Mayerbock was among those who rallied to his classmates' aid.

Of course, reading that, I am ready for a Flight 93 Beameresque "Let's Roll" moment, or perhaps something like the civilian pancaking of the shooter at the White House all those years ago.

Instead, what I find are simpler moments of more normal human reactions to extreme stress.


First citation for heroism, Flight:

Jeskey, a junior midfielder-defender for the Northern Illinois men's soccer team, was among the dozens of students facing a chilling reality Thursday in DeKalb, Ill. Former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak opened fire in a geology class, killing five and wounding 16 others before turning the gun on himself.

After the first shot, which Jeskey calls "the loudest thing I've ever heard," students began scrambling to get out of the room. Jeskey fell to the floor, banging his knee and hand, and slipped several times as he crawled the 20 or so feet to the door.

"When I had my back turned to [Kazmierczak], I heard two more shots as I was trying to get out," he said. "Then, when I was outside, I heard another one. First reaction was to just get out of that place."

Second and third citations, compassion:

"It was almost rapid fire," Mayerbock said. "It was one shot after another. People were just running out screaming. A couple seconds later, I saw someone fall to the ground coming out the door, obviously got shot in the leg."

The victim was Troy Chamberlain, a freshman Mayerbock had never met. Chamberlain had been shot in both legs, leaving him with 22 buckshot pellets in his left thigh and three in his right thigh.

Mayerbock ran to Chamberlain. When he approached the bleeding student, Mayerbock got a glimpse inside the lecture hall.

"I looked down the hallway and saw this guy with a gun," Mayerbock said. "My reaction was he was going to come and finish people off. I thought he was coming after this kid.

"I just grabbed the kid and took off as fast as I could."
...
In nearby DuSable Hall, Britt Davis had left his communications lab after someone informed him of the shooting. Trying to get his cell phone to work, Davis saw a crowd huddled around a bleeding student wearing a letterman's jacket...Davis quickly joined the group helping Chamberlain.

"Everybody was on the same page, just talking to him, keeping him as calm as possible, keeping him from going into shock until the paramedics got there," Davis said. "He was communicating back to us. He was fighting it."

So Jeskey, when shots are fired, does what 99% of us would do, and gets the hell out of dodge.

Mayerbock, recognizing that shots have been fired and seeing people running in fear, witnesses one person go down wounded and stops to help get that student out of the field of fire. This is bravery, and to be commended, but I don't know that it approaches the level of heroism. Maybe I'm an Audie Murphy kinda guy though, and set my sights a bit too high.

Later, and the one bit I found ridiculous in the article body, Mayerbock is elevated for having the common sense to apply a compress to a wound, and phone 911 even though he's never taken a class in first aid!

Despite having no first aid training, Mayerbock found a towel and applied it to Chamberlain's wound. He also phoned for an ambulance.

So, where's the heroism? What can it mean for a society that elevates Media Stars, and even occasionally the "fearless reporter" to hero stature, while real heroes go unreported, or even occasionally, are prosecuted?

Real heroes rarely will tell their own stories. It is important though, that those stories are told, so that the concept of true heroism percolates in just enough people who have the capacity to rise above the instincts of most of us.

So that in those sublime moments when their call to action is heeded, they might by their example better us all.

Look at what rolls through this scene about 31 seconds in. Could the contrast between heroes and cowards ever be made more clear?

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posted by xgenghisx at 03:40 AM

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