A chilling story came out Clay County this week. Classes at every school in the county were canceled—for three whole days—because administrators uncovered a plot by students to attack schools on the anniversary of the Columbine tragedy.

“There appears to be evidence of a very real, sinister plot to kill quite a few people and bring guns in and destroy a lot of lives,” the county’s superintendent Kenneth Tanner told MetroNews on Wednesday. Apparently, three middle schoolers were planning an attack on April 20, scraped only because they wanted both more guns and more people involved.

“Had they carried this out, Clay County Middle School would’ve been up there with Columbine High School and Sandy Hook.”

This follows an incident last summer when an armed 14-year-old took his teacher and classmates hostage in Barbour County. Luckily, police were able to persuade the child to put down the gun and let people go.

Think about that: 12, 13 and 14-year-old children thinking the best way to solve their problems is to pick up a gun.

After events like these, we have to ask ourselves. What sort of society produces children who feel so hopeless?

Sure, growing up has never been easy. And with the constant connectedness of Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat, I can’t even begin to imagine the social pressures a teenager must face today.

And both of those events of course deserve detailed analysis as to the particular circumstances that would lead to such an incident. And we should surely be talking about mental health issues as well.

But I think we’ve been losing something very core to our lives and our communities: Love.

Hate is all around. And I don’t mean hate like bathrooms at Target and all of that. I’m talking about the hate we harbor in our hearts when we tear somebody else down. When we casually make fun, when our tempers flair on the highway, when we start thinking we are the most important person in the world.

It’s when we value justice over mercy. When we chose not to turn the other cheek.

Of course it’s not just in West Virginia. I just tend to think we were some of the last holdouts when it came to loving your neighbor.

In the eulogy for my grandmother, my mom told a small moment that stuck with her all her life. One year for Halloween all the school children came dressed up for a party later in the afternoon. But one little girl didn’t have a costume, so my grandmother went home, sowed one together, and quietly brought it back.

My mom couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9, but so powerful was that small gesture of love did it follow her for the rest of her life. So powerful was that small act of love that it has rippled though the years, to a story I’m sure I will someday tell my own children.

My grandmother was born and raised in Fairmont, and aside from a couple of miserable months in Ohio in the 50’s, lived her whole life there. She was raised to value mercy over justice, to love your neighbor as yourself.

Thats what we do as Christians, that’s what we do as West Virginians. We need to teach our children—both in what we say and what we do—to choose love over hate.

Because when children feel their only hope is violence, we’re all responsible for that.

That’s not a world that I want to live in. It’s not a West Virginia I want to live in.

Andrew Springer is the editor and publisher of WeHeart West Virginia. He’s from Fairmont but now splits his time between Hedgesville and New York City. Featured photo by Jeff Turner.