Let's face it, we all wonder first who did this. It's a good thing that they generally refrain from this kind of speculation on television, because one errantly spoken sentence on television can have vast ramifications and start a panic. But here, as long as we do this carefully, it's not irresponsible.
I do not think it's premature to call this a terrorist attack, but I want to be clear on my definition of "terrorist." I don't mean Muslim fundamentalist at all necessarily. There are homegrown terrorists on the fringe right (and I guess some on the fringe left, though we haven't heard from them in this way for many a year). And anyone who did this is a terrorist, even a solo nut, because this was an act of terror. Ergo committing it makes one a terrorist. I know Obama didn't use the word, and he was right not to. But I'm not the president.
I'm leaning in the direction of thinking that this isn't any kind of Arab terrorist group. Horrific as this obviously was, it doesn't seem big enough. Everything we know about their m.o.—the 1993 WTC bombing, the 2000 LAX plot, and 9-11—suggests that they aim bigger. There was some sophistication here, with the bombs timed to go off in those intervals. But evidently there were a couple of failures too. Of course, 1993 was mostly a failure too, but on a far grander scale.
This doesn't eliminate the possibility that it was such a person or persons, but it seems more likely that if that's the case it's a couple of local actors. An expert named Brian Levin was just on MSNBC, and he was talking about an al-Qaeda handbook that was recently discovered that encourages lone wolves to act.
Then there's the chance it's a fringe-right group. The only thing that makes us wonder about this possibility is that the last mile of the race was dedicated to Newtown victims. But man you would have to be a really 100 percent out-there sicko to think that this was how you wanted to make a political statement about gun rights. I think there are dangerous extremists among that group, but I don't think even they would do or approve of doing something like this.
And of course it's April 15. Tax day. Could mean something, might not.
Finally, none of those, just a local nutcase? I guess I am right now leaning in that least conspiratorial direction. This could be motivated by simple revenge of some kind, or by nothing but the disease in someone's brain.
Finally, as macabre as this sounds, the second thing I always wonder when things like this happen is why they don't happen more often. We're such an open and free society. Any America-hater or simple nut could plant a bomb in any mall in any city or town in America and cause death. Ever since the 70s and 80s, when I read about those incidents in Italy at the Bologna train station, or the Baader-Meinhof gang's exploits, I have wondered how we in America escaped that. Well, now, we don't, completely. But I've been surprised since both Oklahoma City and 9-11 that we didn't face more such incidents.
It's a horrible tragedy. An 8-year-old. I pray for her or his parents' sake that they didn't see it happen. Completely incomprehensible to me. But it could have been and probably was planned to be much worse. We'll learn much more in the next few days. I bet we'll learn, whatever slim solace it provides, that the perpetrator was disappointed.