What to do with the site of a mass murder?

The house in Milwaukee where Jeffrey Dahmer committed his grisly acts of murder and cannibalism was just torn down.  Who would want to live in a place where such evil happened?  The Amish community tore down the schoolhouse where a killer murdered five little girls.  Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, where all those children were shot, is going to be demolished, whereupon a new schoolhouse will be erected on the very same spot.

So should we do the same with that movie multiplex in Colorado or the office building at the Navy Yard?I think the impulse to destroy a building where something horrible happened is an atavistic sense of the spiritual significance of place, whether it might be sacred or might be cursed. And yet, this can easily get superstitious.  Sometimes a plaque or a memorial to the victims is sufficient.  But I’m not sure where to draw the line.

The Washington Post has published a fascinating article on the subject, as occasioned by the Navy Yard shootings and the question of what to do with that particular office building.

From Brady Dennis,  What do you do with the site of a mass shooting? – The Washington Post.

The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard this past week is but the latest entry in a long list of such tragedies. Each time, in each place, after the funerals and tributes, after the news crews have gone home, each community is left to decide:

What do you do with the place where such violence unfolded?

From Columbine to Virginia Tech to Newtown, from Seal Beach to Oak Creek to Binghamton, communities must balance the desire to memorialize the dead with the need to restore normalcy for the living. But how do you turn a murder scene back into a place of business or learning — or something else? And who gets to make the decision?

What a community chooses often says far more about the people and the place than about the crime.

Read the whole article.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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