Am I Next?

Am I Next

Am I Next? Sign at a March For Our Lives march and rally in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

This morning at work there was the sudden sound of a piercing siren that went by the building where I work in Middleton, Wisconsin. I didn’t think too much of it as the fire department is across the street from us. A very short time later we heard another one, and another. Looking out the window I saw two ambulances coming from different directions and heading west. Then a police car, and another, and more–sheriff’s car, unmarked car, and more. I had just said to someone that either there was a really bad accident out on the highway or a shooting situation nearby when an employee came in and showed us a posting on Facebook that there was an active shooter situation in Middleton.

It turned out that the shooter was at a building less than a mile away, in the office of a software company called WTS Paradigm. The shooter was an employee who injured several people before the police shot him. He later died at the hospital. But for several hours our building was locked down. It was nerve-wracking. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to those who were shot, who were there, or nearby. A couple friends work near the building where the shooter was. One of them works at the hotel where the police were taking workers from the Paradigm building. He witnessed people crying, in fear, in shock.

All day long it was difficult to focus at work. It was a little too close. Heading home on the opposite side of the city seemed more welcome than usual.

After an unsettling day, I was finally able to leave work and head home. When I got home I walked the dog, then came back into the house and went online only to find out that someone had been shot on a city bus just six blocks from our house in Monona and that shooter is still at large. I went back into the kitchen and shut and locked the door I had left open to let in some fresh air. This one is literally too close to home.

I am currently safe, but I don’t feel like it, because I live in a violent country where virtually everyone has easy access to guns, and shootings are so commonplace that they are only a big story if multiple people are shot. Today, a gunman was killed and four people were also injured in a shooting at a courthouse in Pennsylvania. That and the Middleton story made national news. But I wonder how many individuals were shot and injured or killed in how many cities around the country that will only make the local news and then be forgotten. I wonder how soon the stories in Middleton and Pennsylvania will be forgotten because the only people killed were the shooters. Soon there will be no one left in the country who doesn’t have a memory of a mass shooting in their neighborhood or town.

Something must be done. I don’t have the answer about how to balance our second amendment rights to keep and bear arms with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but some kind of balance must be found. Everything is out of balance now. We cannot live like this anymore. The employees at Paradigm in Middleton now understand this. The young people from Parkland High School understand this. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook understand this. We cannot wait until everyone has an experience with a mass shooting for everyone else to understand this. We need common sense gun laws and we need them now. We cannot afford more victims. We cannot continue to live in a daily world of fear. We cannot go about our day-to-day lives wondering, “Am I next?”

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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