(originally published September 24, 2016 on Quora)
Last night, not enthralled with the movie my husband had chosen to watch, I logged into my smartphone to check my email and scroll through Facebook.
The large picture window in the living room window of our Mount Vernon house faces north. We can see the lights of Burlington, WA, which is a few miles away across the Skagit River. The river, which meanders west before a hairpin turn to the south, divides the communities of Burlington and Mount Vernon. Our house is a short walk from the Skagit, and no more than three miles, as a crow flies, from the Burlington commercial area.
When I turned on my phone, I was greeted with a news alert. There had been a shooting at Burlington Cascade Mall. The pieces quick fell into place. The helicopters I could see from our window, circling over Burlington, were no doubt part of the effort to find the shooter.
It had been less than two hours since the shooting so there was little information, except the location – the cosmetic counter at Macy’s – the injury and death toll, and a blurry picture of the shooter, a young, possibly Hispanic man, carrying a rifle in dark shorts, dark shirt, and presumably sneakers.
My husband and I, each equipped with a smart phone, scanned the news sources and social media, looking for another tidbit as to what happened. Presidential candidate Donald Trump had already arrived at the conclusion the shooter wasn’t Hispanic, but Muslim. Some of the Twitter-sphere had also arrived at the same decision, espousing their hatred of Muslims and 2nd Amendment Right to carry their arsenal of guns.
Their projections and xenophobia was infuriating.
Mount Vernon and Burlington, located in the Skagit Valley, are primarily farming communities, blessed with good weather and extremely fertile soil, which turns tubers and seeds into fields of tulips, daffodils, irises, peas, potatoes, corn, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and 70 or so other crops. The region is responsible for growing 50% of the world’s beet and spinach seeds. And 95% of the red potatoes grown in the Washington State come from the Skagit Valley.
Every fall, tens of thousands of snow geese and trumpeter swans descend on the area, waddling through the muddy fields in search of seeds, bugs, and other goodies, left from the harvest season. As the sunsets, they fly to protected wetlands and small bodies of water for a cleansing swim. They stay in the area through February, and can be seen in the fields, including along the main corridor, I-5.
As with many farming communities, there’s a large Hispanic population. Although, I suspect most aren’t migrant, having living in the area for decades, starting families, opening businesses, and becoming highly respected, and valued workers.
Mount Vernon and Burlington are like a mullet haircut. Both branch off from the main thoroughfare, Riverside Drive. Mount Vernon has a charming, historical downtown with a river walk to the west, and a gentle mountain to the east, lined with picturesque turn-of-the-century homes. In the past few years, several microbrews, restaurants, a chocolate shop, and several boutiques and antique shops have opened in downtown. At one end of the town is the historical, refurbished Lincoln Theater. Guest musicians play the theater’s original pipe organ before art films and events.
On weekends, the farmer’s market, along the waterfront, is packed with buyers, and local merchants and farmers selling produce, flowers, honey, breads, cheeses, meats, and handicrafts. On summer night, the downtown is full of people, eating at restaurants, listening to live performances or enjoying the ambiance.
The overarching issue is dealing with the large influx of visitors during the month-long Tulip Festival. On clear days, traffic is backup on I-5 with people trying to get off, and weave through the miles of country roads to get a glimpse of fields of red, yellow, purple, and other vivid colors.
Burlington, on the other hand, is a hub of box and grocery stores, fast food restaurants, a small outlet mall, and several miles of small, local proprietors, selling everything from appliances and flooring to quinceanera gowns.
One of the busiest places is a large produce store towards the end of the town with crates and displays of gorgeous local produce, including a large wooden crate of pickles with stacks of garlic and stalks of dill in a bucket of water, neatly stacked cardboard boxes of large scarlet-red tomatoes, waiting to be canned, piles of orange pumpkins, squash of every size, and bumpy and striped gourds, melons from eastern Washington, and plums, apples, nectarines, peaches, and apricots from local farms. Most notably, cabbages, the size of human heads, yearning to be turned into sauerkraut.
There is also Cascade Mall, a bit dejected with vacant stores and few visitors. Earlier this year, Sears, an anchor store left, leaving Macy’s and Penny’s as the only large department stores. At one end of the mall, the Children’s Museum of Skagit County has taken over several stores. In the middle is a chapel for worship and wedding, along with a recently opened T.J. Maxx. At the other end is a cinema, which is usually very busy. Extending past the mall, is Target, Red Robin, Popeye’s Chicken, Sleep Country, and other national brands.
Several months ago, my husband and I visited the mall on a Friday night. We scarcely saw more than a dozen people. A small train, which children could ride, wove through the empty mall, the teenage conductor, tooting the train’s horn in hope of a child, breaking free of its parent’s grip and becoming a passenger.
It’s incomprehensible a shooting occurred at Cascade Mall. As with many cities, located along a main highway, and less than an hour from larger cities like Everett, Seattle, and Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Burlington aren’t immune to crime. There are the occasional shootings, a product of bravado, booze, and anger. There are assaults, theft, drunk driving, and other malicious acts.
But a person, carrying a rifle, walking into a lightly trafficked mall, and shooting is incomprehensible. It makes no sense. It’s an act of violence, perhaps of unrequited love. Terrorism seems too big of a word, too out-of-place for Burlington. Too far-fetched for the cosmetic counter of Macy’s with only a handful of people anywhere within fire shot of the perpetrator.
My hope is they catch the shooter in the coming days.
In the meanwhile, I’m not going to bolt my doors, rush to buy a gun, or start pointing fingers at groups of people.