In an act of mass self-brutalization, Americans reached for their computers last week to summon the sounds of murder.
They were clicking on those 911 audio recordings, those voices of frightened teachers and parents calling for help at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In the first hour alone, on the Chicago Tribune's website, there were more than 2,500 hits. That number increased exponentially on news sites across the country. The website hosting the recordings for many media outlets crashed repeatedly within the hour.
The desire to hear that fear must have been strong.
But just before the clicking began, I asked a colleague, a former Chicago police reporter, if she planned to listen.
"If I was working on it (as a police reporter), I'd have to," she said, "but I won't listen now, not in my human life." Not in her human life.
That stuck with me all day, and will for a long while afterward, a casually brilliant truth from a woman who'd seen her share of brutality and senselessness in a professional capacity, yet was still trying to keep a wall around her humanity.
Even as she spoke, America got ready to click and click and click on those terrible, fearful sounds of the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, from Newtown, Conn.
Why? Did you listen? Did you feel a piece of your soul flaking off? Most of you already know the facts. The madman, Adam Lanza, 20, first shot his mother to death at home. Then he went to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 first-graders and six adults, including the school's principal.
Many of you may remember the photographs of that day. There is one I'll never forget: a little boy and what looks to be an older sister on the edge of the woods, the trees behind them, the boy looking off camera, to the school and to the unspeakable.
The boy has both hands covering his mouth and nose. His eyes are wide open. The girl has her head down, her arms around him, comforting and protecting him as an older sister might.
Something happened to their human lives that day, and they'll never recover what was lost.
"I have children," said another young woman when I asked her if she'd click on those 911 recordings.
Then she stopped, turned, looked at me and held up her right index finger to make her point.
"I just don't feel the need to listen," she said. "I don't feel I want to hear it. I don't." But many did, on news websites, over radio and television, eager to hear the words of fear and helplessness on those 911 calls.
The reason could be as simple and as boring as what causes a gaper's block, the cars slowing to a crawl to witness the aftermath of a crash on the side of the road.
On the road we're helpless, trapped by the crawling cars around us. We see the crumpled car and wonder about the lives that were inside it, and the fact that we live is reaffirmed.
But this one is different. It might have something to do with control, stopping and starting and pausing and restarting. Manipulating the audio is an exercise in command, as if by controlling the auditory input we can control what's at the other end.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here