Howard Johnson Sniper

Police are shown during a gun battle on the roof of a Howard Johnson's where a sniper killed seven people in New Orleans, Jan. 7, 1973. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky) 

I was 12 years old between late 1972 and early 1973 when two events introduced me to fear as I had never experienced.

The first occurred on Nov. 29, 1972, when fire ripped through the downtown New Orleans high-rise known as the Rault Center. The fire, believed to be started by arsonists, trapped five women on the 15th floor. One at a time, they jumped, hoping to escape the smoke and flames shooting out of the windows. Four of them died; one survived. The horror was captured on live television.

I had to go back and look at the footage to see just how disturbing it was to watch these desperate women jump. But the memory of what I felt while watching it all unfold on live TV as a 12-year-old has never left me. It was fear. Pure, authentic, raw, fear.

A little more than a month later, in January 1973, another bloodcurdling event played out for all to see on live television. Sniper Mark Essex, after shooting 22 people, killing 9, was trapped on top of the Howard Johnson hotel in downtown New Orleans. The 11-hour saga ended when police eventually killed Essex with 200 gunshot wounds. I had to go back and look up the details of the shootings and watch the surreal video, but I remember like yesterday the feeling I had as a 12-year old watching it all on live TV.

Later that year, my family traveled to Florida for vacation, and we stopped one night along the way to stay at a Howard Johnson motel. At the age of 12, the idea of staying at a Howard Johnson’s terrified me.

Watching what happened Sunday in Las Vegas made me think of all the kids who will no doubt see the nightmarish video of thousands screaming and running for their lives trying to dodge the bullets coming from a madman. The event is a life-changer for so many. Obviously, the dead and wounded but even those who witnessed it.

Iraqi war vet Colin Donohue, who was at the concert, has seen plenty of combat. He described the Las Vegas shooting as much worse and said "words can't describe" the horror. I was watching CNN late Sunday night as reporters were interviewing some of the witnesses of the mass shooting. They were shell-shocked and seemed as though they were in a fog or a daze. We are not equipped to deal with such carnage.

As a 12-year old, I eventually got over my irrational fear caused by the two events that left such an impression on me in late 1972 and early 1973. But I doubt it will be so easy for the 22,000 in attendance at the concert in Las Vegas. It will be an especially rough go for kids who will try to make sense of it all.

When mankind gives itself over to evil, pain always ensues. The greater the evil, the more severe the pain. Whether it’s something as small as gossiping about a coworker, or as extreme as firing upon thousands of innocent people with the intent to kill, evil brings agony, misery and suffering. What’s worse is as evil spreads, the fear of evil grows. And it’s the fear that impacts us all.

I don’t begin to know the answer to preventing what happened in Las Vegas. This will no doubt give rise to more debate on gun control, with both sides passionately making their case. It does seem a bit much for gun control zealots to accuse those who disagree with them as being okay with mass shootings. They hurt their own cause when they do so.

I know this: We should, each and every one of us, old and young, resist the urge to let fear grip our hearts. This is not to say we should bury our heads in the sand, but allowing fear to consume us only expands evil’s reach in our lives. I wish someone would have told me that when I was 12.

Dan Fagan, a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie, writes a column that appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Email him at