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Making Sense of Tragedy – Newtown, CT

Making Sense of Tragedy - Newtown, CTAt times like these, we all search for meaning. We all look to make sense of tragedy. We need to put it into some organized containers, because otherwise it just becomes too overwhelming.

This time, the shooting involved not random people in a movie theater, or young adults on a college campus who unfortunately were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This time, the shooting involved 20 elementary school-aged children. At school. As well as another 6 or 7 adults.

To even begin to wrap your mind around it causes most of us emotional pain and anguish.

In short, how do we make sense of such tragedy?

Making sense of a senseless tragedy of this nature is difficult. In the days to come, we’ll see news organizations trying to piece together the puzzle of Adam Lanza, the alleged shooter. We’ll see people looking for the tell-tale clues of someone about to commit one of the most horrific murders of all time in this country. We’ll see “experts” and pundits who conclude, without a doubt, that we could’ve prevented this incident, if only X, Y or Z happened.

Gun-control advocates will use the incident to forward their agenda. Gun lobbyists will use the incident to forward their agenda. Nobody will bat an eyelash as they hold their press conferences pushing their political viewpoints. Everything will be carefully scripted and well-choreographed.

And yet, still, none of it will make sense.

Because a tragedy of this proportion can’t fit into any rational container. It is a purely irrational, criminal act that has little explanation. It happens so rarely that, like most random terrorist acts, it cannot be prevented. The signs we would look for from this single individual would do little to help us with the next person — who will act in a way quite unique to their own upbringing, history, and psyche.

That’s frustrating to most of us, and even adds to the senselessness.

So here’s the container to put this tragedy — and incidents like it — into. Some acts that a human being commits bear no resemblance to some of the core things that make us human — compassion, empathy, an ability to feel, to be selfless, to care, and to look out for others in our community.

The person who committed this act of violence and murder is human. But somewhere along the way, he lost his humanity. He lost the basic social contract we all hold one another to… that we don’t take the enormous gifts we have of our lives, souls, and community, and blow them all up.

Not all things happen for a reason.


Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Newtown, CT.


Realtime Google coverage of Newtown, CT shooting


Edited to reflect male identity of the alleged shooter.

Making Sense of Tragedy – Newtown, CT

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Making Sense of Tragedy – Newtown, CT. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 14 Dec 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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