Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Saturday, August 19, 2017

When has there been such a burst of sickening headlines from one place? First, the killing of singer Christina Grimmie by an unhinged stalker with a handgun. Then the vicious slaughter at the Pulse nightclub by a homophobic wannabe jihadist with an AR-15. And, finally, the snatching of a toddler by an alligator roaming a Disney lake.

All three stories are datelined Orlando, Fla., a stunningly freakish coincidence.

Each horrid event, even the gator attack, could easily have happened in other towns, in other states.

Yet they all happened here, in the space of five days.

A national radio host asked me if this heartbreaking blitz of tragedies was an extreme display of Florida’s well-documented craziness.

The question wasn’t surprising, given the usual flow of bizarre news from this place. People all over the world hungrily devour and retweet weird Florida stories, as soon as they hit the internet.

Last week’s events inevitably reinforced the state’s off-center reputation, which is understandable if not entirely fair.

It’s true that we have some of the weakest firearms laws in the nation, and that basically any hate-filled misfit can lurch into a gun shop here and buy whatever he wants, including assault rifles.

It’s also true that the NRA basically owns our cowardly governor, one of our U.S. senators, a bunch of stooge congressmen and the entire Republican leadership of the state Legislature.

However, a similar lax climate exists in many other places, most notably the power corridors of Washington, D.C. Politicians who take money from the gun lobby vote the way the gun lobby tells them.

Some are true believers, and some are just whores.

This isn’t to minimize what happened here, or to let any of our spineless lawmakers off the hook, but it’s a sad fact that Florida’s lunacy mirrors America’s lunacy.

It was young Christina Grimmie’s fate to give a concert within driving distance of an armed maniac who’d seen her perform on “The Voice,” and for some reason decided she deserved to die.

Yes, we have these psychos in Florida, but you can find them all over the country. They’re out there — seething, muttering and fantasizing — from coast to coast.

Same goes for the monster who mowed down 49 people at the Pulse.

What he did has been done many times before, from Columbine to Fort Hood to Sandy Hook. The distinction in the Orlando massacre was the body count, a new record.

Which will undoubtedly be broken someday, in some other place, by some other whack job with an AR-15.

There’s no denying that Florida is way different. Our 20 million residents bear witness to an extraordinary range of extreme behavior — much of it silly, some of it terrifying. Kooks and criminals flock here for the same reasons that draw tourists and retirees.

Nonetheless, last week’s events were almost overwhelming, the horrors coming one after the other. There were none of the usual comic distractions, no daffy local stories to retweet to our friends.

What occurred along a lakeside beach at Disney’s Grand Floridian hotel was the nightmare finale.

Typically our alligator news is benign — gator in the swimming pool, gator on the freeway, gator in the storm drain. These video clips are a go-to staple of every Florida TV station and narrated with practiced amusement by the anchor persons.

Even the incident in Loxahatchee when a small gator was deposited in a Wendy’s drive-through didn’t evoke dread; it was just another knucklehead tale from the Sunshine State.

Not this time, though. This time it was the worst story imaginable.

A 2-year-old boy from Nebraska was grabbed from the shallows at night, in front of his family. The boy’s father desperately fought to pull him free, without success.

Some “No Swimming” signs were posted, but nothing that specifically warned tourists about gators in the lake — and there were several living there.

It’s hard to believe the child’s parents would have let him go near the water if they’d known about those gators, which behave the same way on Disney property as they do deep in the Everglades.

Attacks on humans are very rare, but come on. How much does a sign cost?

True, this awful tragedy could have happened on a lake in Texas or Louisiana, but it didn’t. It happened at the most popular tourist destination on the planet, in Orlando.

Capping five days of shock and sorrow.

It’s no great cosmic mystery why all these bad things happened in the same place in Florida. It was pure cruel chance, in the extreme.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

Photo: People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri