An incident like the high school shooting spree in Littleton, Colorado takes place and folks ask, "Who are these kids who would do such a thing?"
It is who you don't know who can hurt you.
All the usual suspects will be rounded up in the search for answers: Lack of gun control, media violence, teen alienation, drugs and the diminished role of religion. But these factors have been part of the American fabric for decades, so why have these school massacres erupted in the past few years? And why do they always seem to take place in the prosperous suburbs?
Partially at least, it is because of the way teens – and adults – now live: Apart from one another, even their own families, with lots of their own "space." Kids are as often as not alone in their rooms, with their own televisions and computers.
When two of my closest friends went looking for a home in which to raise a family, their number one criterion was that they "be able to look out the window and not see their neighbor's houses."
Another friend is living with her two children in the same house in which she grew up with her two siblings. She's looking for a larger place. Not enough space.
One of the mothers from my old neighborhood in Hartford passed away recently. Her funeral was a big reunion of the kids who grew up on the street. They knew her, she knew them.
Emblematic of a bygone era, June Cleaver knew Wally's friends Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford. She knew the Beaver's pals Whitey, Gilbert and Larry Mundello. They all hung out at the Cleaver house.
Today, those same kids would be hanging out at the mall, unknown by the adults around them.
I can't think about this topic without recalling the time a friend of my mother's, and not a particularly close one, saw me smoking a cigarette on one of Hartford's main drags when I was but a lad. She called my parents.
How many people would do that nowadays? Folks who have tried will tell you they were met with denial and counter-accusation. Me? I got paddled. And grounded. And banned from the television set.
It's hard to imagine those shooters from Colorado being guests at one another's family dinner.
"So what are you up to these days, Dylan? Pipe bombs? Oh, I see. Very good then."
More likely these kids huddled and plotted in the basement while the oblivious adults in their lives let them have their space.
A natural reaction to the horror of this latest episode in teen violence is to ask yourself if it can happen where you live. Look out your window. If you can't see your neighbor's house, or if you can and you don't know who lives there – it can.
April 21, 1999