Associated Press
School children wait for their parents outside the Sandy Hook firehouse Friday.

We may never understand.

Whatever mental illness exists to cause someone to plan and carry out the mass murder of innocent people, especially little children, it seems to defy efforts to predict or adequately prevent.

Crime rates nationwide have fallen over several years now. Generally speaking, American cities are safer than they have been in a generation or two. And yet the nation has to confront what seems to be an epidemic of isolated mass killings in cities small and large — killings that destroy lives and disrupt communities as effectively as anything a foreign terrorist might do.

Earlier this week, a young man described by friends and family as a happy, easygoing 22-year-old who liked video games and talked about moving to Hawaii, armed himself and began shooting in a crowded shopping mall near Portland, Ore.

Then, in a crime so horrific it is difficult to contemplate, a young man opened fire in an elementary school in a small Connecticut town Friday, killing many people, including children in kindergarten. The shooter was reported dead.

News reports included interviews with precious young children whose lives should be filled with holiday joy and anticipation, but who instead were forced to confront raw fear and grim tragedies reminiscent of a war scene.

The people of Newtown, Conn., are devastated, but they are not alone. The entire nation was in shock Friday as the news spread. People of good will everywhere understand that the only remedy now is to band together to provide comfort and aid, just as they have in the past.

This generation did not invent such senseless acts. Friday's murders were similar to a crime committed in Bath, Mich., on May 18, 1927. In that instance, a man upset by the taxes he had to pay for public schools lined the basement of the Consolidated School Building with explosives and detonated the bombs while school was in session, killing 38 children, six adults and himself.

The nation rallied in sympathy and support back then, too. But they were no better at explaining why it happened than we seem to be today.

There appear to be no safe havens from random people who seem to walk among us like individual sleeper cells waiting for orders from within. It happened in a movie theater in Colorado. It happened at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. It happened on an island in Norway. The list goes on.

People can prepare with drills and instructions. They can study these crimes and come up with lists of warning signs that may, in fact, make it possible to stop someone before acting out. But it isn't likely we will ever fully understand why anyone would feel compelled to cause such carnage.

What people can do is resolve not to let the evil win. They can respond with a resolve to spread hope to a far greater degree than the killers spread bullets. They can choose to make comfort, compassion and faith the weapons of choice.

Most importantly today, they can help children understand that the good in the world outweighs the bad, and that love and charity will overwhelm evil.

It won't help people understand why such crimes occur, but it will provide a perspective that is essential for future generations.