East Area Rapist — part of the montage of carnage

Well, this is unfortunate.

I mean, the larger story is astounding and relieving and huge, but for me and my husband, there’s a little asterisk to it. Let’s just get over this little speed bump before moving on: Joseph DeAngelo, identified and arrested this week as the elusive and terrifying East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, is not — I repeat, NOT — the same person as Joseph DeAngelo, my husband.

Ouch, right?

When the story broke, I was simply stunned. The East Area Rapist was part of my adolescence. I lived in the “East Area” back then, Carmichael, to be exact, and news of his capture instantly made me recall the fear that permeated our daily lives because of him. I was even further stunned, however, when I read his name.

Ouch.

I texted my husband to inform him that he may experience some collateral damage over the next few weeks, sharing the name of one of the most notorious serial killers/rapists in California history. He grew up in Pennsylvania, you see, and stories of the East Area Rapist’s ongoing monstrosities weren’t as in-your-face as they were here. Our lives, our thoughts, our behavior patterns — everything was colored by continually emerging horror. (Anyone else stack empty coffee cans behind the front door of your apartment in the ’70s so they’d crash and wake you up if someone broke in during the night?)

When Joe and I watched the evening news together the day the story broke, the shock of hearing his own name attached to these unspeakable crimes brought it painfully into focus. I’m sure all the other Ted Bundys out there can relate.

(Programming note: If you’re tempted to rib Joe about murders or rapes… Just don’t. It’s not funny. Additionally, this monster has NO relation to us whatsoever. So, don’t “go there,” okay? Don’t be “that” guy/gal. Joking about anything that has to do with those times is about as funny as a dead baby.)

The late ’60s and the ’70s weren’t all peace, love and flower power. They were a boiling pot of human cruelty and misery; a spray of carnage and chaos. Against the ongoing backdrop of the Vietnam War, little drops of horror fell into our collective experiential pool, making huge, stunning ripples: Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated; the Kent State shootings; the evening news littered with images of coffins returning from Vietnam; and then… the granddaddies of serial murderers: Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer entered our lives.

The late ’60s and early ’70s were when I first became aware of the news and the larger world, and it scared me senseless. I was pre-loaded to fret, fear and worry in 1974, when the East Area Rapist began terrorizing our neighborhood. I was a freshman in high school then, and everyone in the “east area” of Sacramento was psychologically held hostage. We feared being the next victim. Every single day. Fear permeated everything.

Mix into this gruesome cocktail the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the emergence of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Hearst’s brainwashing at the hands of her captors and reemergence as a machinegun-toting bank robber in 1975 — right there in Carmichael. The SLA robbed the same Crocker Bank we went to, and gunned down an innocent woman right where we’d stand in line.

That same year, Manson Family member “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, also in Sacramento. In the midst of all this, Ted Bundy emerged on the serial killer scene, challenging the East Area Rapist as the bogeyman monster of the time, simultaneously raping and killing multiple women concurrently with the East Area Rapist’s attacks.

We were all riveted to the evening news and front pages of newspapers in screaming-sized fonts, informing us of the latest slaughter. No wonder my perception of the world was that it’s endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous.

When I moved to Davis to go to college, the carnage train rumbled onward. In 1980, my heart was broken when John Lennon was assassinated. The same month, I learned that one of my high school friends was amongst the victims of serial killers Gerald and Charlene Gallego, who kidnapped young women to use as sex slaves and then murder when they tired of them. My friend, Craig Miller, was dating one of those girls. At least he wasn’t used as a sex slave… just marched into a field near Bass Lake and assassinated face down in the weeds.

Just after this, Davis residents Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins were murdered. They were last seen buying ice cream on their way to a party — at the same grocery store I was in, on the very same night, at the very same time. It’s not much of a leap to “it could have been me.” It wasn’t long after these murders that Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) and Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) vied for the serial killer spotlight.

As I look back on those years, it seems like a montage of horror; a serial of serial murders. But then came the ’90s, and it seems that serial murder fell out of favor with white sociopathic males. Maybe mass shootings are serial murders, 2.0? You can slaughter scores of innocent people in mere moments with the pull of one semi-automatic weapon trigger and be home in time for lunch. Even our psychopathic killers are lazy and impatient now. Why do all that homicidal planning when mass shooting provide a one-stop-shop for killing many, many people?

Honestly, I’m unable to even make sense of the scope of human cruelty and carnage. Why, when we are capable of immense kindness, are we such horrible creatures? At least one horrible creature was captured this week, never to harm again. I suppose it’s some small consolation. However, his capture is a bitter reminder of my teenage conclusion: Life is endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous. Why? Because humans seem incapable of being better than they are.

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Our problem isn’t gun violence — it’s domestic terrorism

School shootings — they always happen somewhere else.

Except when they don’t.

How many of us, for one fleeting, guilt-drenched nano-second, felt a flash of relief that the latest mass shooting didn’t happen in our own town? We dodged a bullet. Many bullets.

This time.

Who amongst us ever even heard of Parkland, Florida before Feb. 14, 2018? It was some average little town, filled with average little people going about their business, and with the pull of a trigger, instantly became the center of the universe.

Well, for now. Until the next shooting. Film at 11.

What if next time, it’s your town or mine that becomes the center of the universe? Are we ready? I decided to find out and do a story for next week’s Winters Express, and interviewed our superintendent of schools, Todd Cutler, and police chief, John Miller, to find out what they’re doing to keep our schools and community safe. The short answer is: everything they can. The other short answer is: not enough.

Is it their fault that it’s not enough? Heavens no. They’re doing what they can with what they have to work with. Both entities have taken some excellent proactive steps. Our school district rekeyed every classroom door on every campus, and every door now locks from the inside. Efforts are made to raise student awareness about being alert for potentially threatening behavior on campus and on social media, and to report it. There’s an unarmed security guard at the high school keeping watch.

Our police department takes reports of threats very seriously and checks each one out. They have a school resource officer visiting campuses and building relationships. Our police department also benefits from Chief Miller’s expertise in active shooting situations — something in which he was trained after the 1999 Columbine shootings.

1999.

How can these school shootings not only continue, but be escalating. What has happened to us, as a nation?

Miller outlined for me some law enforcement history regarding mass shootings and how to deal with them, beginning with the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Austin, which resulted in the creation of SWAT teams.

Fast-forward to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. SWAT teams were on the scene, but many victims died because the emergency medical personnel were trained not to enter such a situation until the shooter was either captured or killed. As a result, EMTs now receive protective gear and special training to enter “warm zones,” escorted by law enforcement, and get to shooting victims sooner. With each new horror, law enforcement learns a new skill, but sadly, those with evil intent learn much quicker.

We talked about sociopaths managing to kill many, even where guns are illegal. All it takes is a crowded street and a car. How can you prevent this? Ban crowds? Or cars?

Consider the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, using a homemade explosive device contained in a pressure cooker. Do we ban pressure cookers? Or the 1995 Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, detonated from a rental truck containing a bomb made from fertilizer. Do we ban fertilizer or rental trucks? It struck me that these two bombings were labeled “terrorism,” and then it struck me yet further: Why aren’t school/mass shootings?

What, exactly, constitutes terrorism? I consulted with Professor Google, and discovered a website, http://www.secbrief.org/2014/04/definition-of-terrorism/, that lists definitions from several agencies and entities. I zeroed in on the Department of Homeland Security’s definition:

“(15) The term ‘terrorism’’ means any activity that— (A) involves an act that— (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

Mass shootings inarguably qualify under section (A), and because there’s an “or” in section (B), they also qualify there: (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. It’s all right there: Mass shootings are dangerous to human life and illegal, and are intended to intimidate civilians.

Mass shootings ARE terrorism.

It’s paradigm shift time.

Let’s call “school/mass shootings” what they are — terrorism — and get the full weight of the Department of Homeland Security behind our gun violence epidemic rather than expecting small local police departments to save us, because people, our homeland is anything but secure right now, and it’s not because of Islamic extremists or ISIS. It’s because of US. WE are the enemy, and we’re under seige.

Redefining the problem will guide us toward more effective strategies than will our collective disgust for the morally bankrupt NRA. The NRA, vile as it is, isn’t the problem. The problem is human evil… terrorists. In my mind, “evil” and “terrorism” are not only interchangeable words, but the true problem.

Does that mean we shouldn’t tighten up our gun laws? Oh, hell no. Were it up to me, they’d all be collected and melted down into rebar for reinforcing our decaying bridges and overpasses. But the trouble is (and it simply destroys me to acknowledge that the NRA is correct on this point) only law-abiding citizens will give up their guns and criminals won’t. Laws mean nothing to sociopaths and criminals. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, and tighten them up, too. But even then… there are still pressure cookers. And fertilizer. And cars. Evil.

Rather than indulging in our well-deserved loathing of the NRA (because, let’s face it — that is a dead end), let’s turn our energy and focus toward our chronic, ongoing domestic terrorism epidemic. The sad and chilling fact is that as it stands, you and I, our children and our loved ones, are all potential victims of terrorism. We must stare the real monster in the face before we can destroy it. There are terrorists amongst us, right now. What do we do about that? I don’t have an answer. But I’m now asking the correct question.