LET'S STOP shaking our heads in

disbelief. Let's stop wondering how the methodical slaughter of children - babies - in Newtown, Conn., could possibly happen. Let's instead take a long hard look in the mirror and realize we had a role in this: All of us who watched tragedies unfold in a Colorado movie theater, an Amish school, a Texas military base.

We grieved, but failed to demand politics and policies that might have helped end the slaughter.

And please, TV reporters, stop calling Connecticut "idyllic." Seriously, just stop.

Not that it isn't. Before moving to Philadelphia, I lived in a quiet corner of eastern Connecticut, in a 150-year-old house on top of a wooded hill that was as peaceful and picturesque as it sounds.

Until recently, Connecticut was the wealthiest state in the nation. Coupled with its bucolic landscape - woods, beaches, farms and rivers - it's not hard to believe the myth that nothing bad could happen there.

But even before a damaged 20-year-old turned his deadly intentions on a school-full of innocents, not even "idyllic" Connecticut was immune from horror.

I was there in 1998 when a Connecticut State Lottery employee shot and killed four co-workers before committing suicide.

And in 2007, one of the state's most savage crimes occurred just 30 miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary, in Cheshire, Conn. A father was beaten nearly to death. A mother and her two young daughters were tortured before flames tore through the house. The mother had been strangled. But the two girls, still alive, were strapped to their beds, unable to escape and died. The details of that crime still haunt me.

A few years later, in 2010, a truck driver showed up to work and killed eight of his Hartford Distributors co-workers before killing himself as police closed in.

And now this.

A friend and veteran cop who was at Sandy Hook Elementary just hours after the shootings texted me: "Empty ambulances. Empty triage area. No Life Star. I've seen bad. This is the worst."

I feel guilty, yet relieved, that I am not there to bear witness to this alongside my former colleagues, who I know are losing a little bit of themselves with each reported horrific detail.

When I heard the news, my knees buckled in fear. My nieces and nephew still go to school in Connecticut. My sisters both work at schools there. I have friends who are teachers.

They are safe. But I know now that a former colleague, a kind, generous man who for years sat near me at the Hartford Courant, lost his stepdaughter. Lauren Rousseau was a 30-year-old teacher at Sandy Hook. A story in the Courant said the 14 children who died in that classroom were huddled and clutching one another in fear.

I weep for my former colleague. I weep for the victims and their families. We all should.

Except I know - we all know, don't we? - that unless something changes now, right now, there will be another inexplicable tragedy. And then another. And another.

Because, before Sandy Hook, there was Portland and Minneapolis and Oak Creek and Aurora and Nickel Mines and ...

There have been more than 60 mass shootings in 30 years in the United States. Understandably, those are the ones that get attention, at least for a little while. But what of the thousands killed by guns last year? What of the hundreds killed in cities all across the country, all across this city?

We have a huge problem with gun violence in this country. I'm not sure what the solution is; there isn't just one. But making sure that getting mental-health care is easier than getting a gun is a start.

The truth is that these tragedies happen in idyllic small towns, in the suburbs, in gritty cities, including Philadelphia. Especially Philadelphia. According to GunCrisis.org, there were 324 homicides in 2011, 264 involving firearms.

All of these tragedies matter. All of them have to stop before we find ourselves yet again shaking our heads and wondering how we got to this unbearable place.

We owe it to those who senselessly lost their lives Friday; the heroic principal, the psychologist, the teachers. But especially to Charlotte, 6, Daniel, 7, Olivia, 6, Josephine, 7, Ana, 6, Dylan, 6, Madeleine, 6, Catherine, 6, Chase, 7, Jesse, 6, James, 6, Grace, 7, Emilie, 6, Jack, 6, Noah, 6, Caroline, 6, Jessica, 6, Avielle, 6 Benjamin, 6, and Allison, 6.

May your little souls rest in peace.