Too many lives lost: Marking painful milestones from shootings, ODs and COVID-19

Reflecting on the pain of 10 killed in a hate-driven shooting, 100,000 dead of drug overdoses and 1 million lost to COVID-19

Flags were already flying at half-mast on Saturday to honor the more than 1 million Americans who have died from COVID-19, when a young man consumed with hate and prejudice opened fire at a Buffalo grocery store, killing 10 and injuring three others.  

The scope of either tragedy, 10 lives or 1 million lives, is beyond comprehension or explanation. Many of us join our friends, family and communities in mourning these losses. No matter the victims’ age, health or ability at their time of death, premature loss of life leaves behind an enduring, unfillable void.  

10 lives lost 

President Biden ordered the American flag be lowered to half mast on May 12, 2022, to commemorate 1 million American lives lost due to COVID-19
President Biden ordered the American flag be lowered to half mast on May 12, 2022, to commemorate 1 million American lives lost due to COVID-19 (Susan Walsh)

Aaron Salter, a security guard and retired Buffalo police department officer, was among the 10 killed at the Tops supermarket on Saturday afternoon. Salter fired multiple rounds at the assailant before being shot and killed. The gunman killed six shoppers and three other store employees before being taken into custody.  

The Erie County sheriff said the shooter’s motive was a “straight up racially motivated hate crime.” This senseless attack joins a growing list of hate crimes on innocents in recent years.  

100,000 lives lost 

Last week the National Center for Health Statistics announced that more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021. As public safety personnel know all too well, most of these deaths are from opioid overdoses. 

An especially worrisome impact of drug overdose deaths is the years of lost life among young people. “Adolescents and young adults lost an estimated 1.2 million years of life due to unintentional drug overdoses over five years,” according to a study published in JAMA and reported by Axios. Each of these deaths represents a child, sibling, parent or friend, but they also are students, workers, voters and taxpayers – forever lost to their families and communities.  

1 million lives lost 

Each loss of life milestone in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic feels grimmer than the one before. Though the gaps between 100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 and 500,000 lives lost were filled with advances in detection, widespread availability of a highly effective vaccine and new treatments that lessened severe illness and lowered the risk of death, hundreds of Americans are still dying each day from COVID-19.  

The 1 million COVID deaths include far too many EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, police officers and corrections officers. Public safety personnel, in most jurisdictions, had access to plentiful PPE and vaccines since December 2020, but the COVID deaths continued throughout 2021 and early 2022. A summer or fall surge in COVID, as some experts are predicting, may lead to more unnecessary suffering and death in our ranks.  

Too many police, EMS and firefighter lives lost in 2021 

This week the nation is also mourning police officers lost in the line of duty with memorial services in Washington, D.C., and local services across the country. We mourn 472 police officers who lost their life while protecting our communities in 2021. Of those deaths, 319 were COVID-19 related, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. Visit Police1 for Police Week coverage.  

This week also marks EMS week. EMS providers who died in the line of duty in 2021 will be recognized July 22-24, the National EMS Weekend of Honor in Arlington, Virginia. Visit EMS1 for EMS1 Week coverage. Additionally, the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, held each year in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is scheduled for Oct. 8-9, 2022.  

A shadow over new beginnings 

Spring is supposed to be a season for new life, but instead, new beginnings are being overshadowed by hate crimes, drug overdoses and COVID. For those who are experiencing the acute and never-ending pain from the loss of a loved one, my platitudes and condolences will fall far short of filling the void in your life. But know that, as I join you in honoring and remembering the fallen, I am sorry for your loss.  

Finally, I am thankful to the EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers who show up every day to make a difference by serving their community.  

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