John McCall, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Students released from a lockdown embrace following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

The reports out of Parkland, Florida, are almost too tragic to read. Hours after a 19-year-old former student allegedly slaughtered at least 17 people, many of whom he had lured into hallways by pulling a fire alarm, witnesses described backpacks strewn near the bodies of victims, with cellphones ringing.

One student, who survived, texted her mother from a storage room. “If I don’t make it, I love you and I appreciate everything you did for me,” she wrote, according to the New York Times.

This may be described accurately as a parent’s worst nightmare in the 21st century. In cruel irony, this is an age in which crime rates overall are at their lowest levels in decades (last year, Parkland was named Florida’s safest city), and yet parents may never before have had so much reason to fear for their child’s safety at school.

As CNN noted, this was at least the fourth such shooting this year at a middle or high school in the United States. The Times published a graphic showing more than 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings since the unspeakable murders of 20 first-graders and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

This is an unacceptable epidemic.

It may safely be said that each such incident is followed by an outpouring of love and support from people nationwide. It also may be said that such tragedies lead to heroic acts, such as that of football coach Aaron Feis, who apparently threw himself in front of students Wednesday and absorbed fatal bullets that otherwise would have struck others.

These are powerful reminders of the goodness inherent in so many people — goodness that far outweighs the evil of senseless acts.

And yet the nation seems unable to do anything to stop this trend of random mass violence that cuts promising lives short and wounds families permanently.

The suspect in this case, Nikolas Cruz, was said to have made comments on YouTube about wanting “to be a professional school shooter,” but agents had been unable to identify the person who made the comment anonymously.

Some students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting happened, said they weren’t surprised, describing Cruz as unstable, obsessed with guns, and someone kids joked would one day attack the school.

In the wake of these tragedies, it is vital that Americans begin examining warning signs and confronting the tough questions.

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Could the nation do more to identify and treat mental illnesses? Could more be done to recognize warning signs and mandate mental health screening without violating a person’s civil rights? Could background checks required for firearms purchases be more effective at weeding out people with mental illnesses, keeping in mind that many such illnesses are not diagnosed before they manifest themselves in dangerous ways? Are there reasonable gun-control measures that could preserve Second Amendment rights while reducing the ability to cause mass casualties? Are schools employing the best safety measures to guard against mass casualties?

Americans cannot continue to allow diseased minds to view mass murder as a viable alternative for appeasing their own sense of injustice. Parents should never again have to endure the horrors of not knowing whether their children are safe at school.