“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
— Author Unknown
So here we are, just a handful of days past the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine school shootings — not the first such incident on record, but one of the earliest of our current era. A collective gasp from coast to coast, at what should have been a seminal moment. A lot can change in twenty years, but in this case nothing has.
Children know — long before a kid should know — that there are no guarantees of tomorrow. Kids as young as kindergarten and first grade are learning about impermanence.
Yesterday, there was another school shooting. In Colorado. Again. And by again, I mean yet again. This is the fourth such incident at a Colorado school over that 20-year span (but not the fourth mass shooting in Colorado overall — lest we forget the movie theater in Aurora, committed by a student, and undoubtedly others). School shootings can happen pretty much anywhere in the US where there is, well, a school. But there’s a not-surprising trend for them to occur in gun-loving locations with lenient laws, like in the South and out West. Like Colorado.
Last week it was a school near me: the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Yes, the South. Two dead, four injured — three of them critically. My youngest daughter was accepted by UNCC just that week (she accepted elsewhere). Her best friend since kindergarten will start at UNCC this fall, and she and her mother — one of my best friends — visited there just a few days beforehand. Of course, being a couple of hours away, all sorts of people we know have kids there.
This is not the first time I’ve written about school shootings. When I commented on Facebook tonight, my eldest, a college student at another UNC campus, replied sadly, “ I feel like I’ve seen you post this a dozen times over the last year.” Some days, it feels like Ground Hog Day. Other days, I hide my head under a blanket and try to protect my heart. I’ve never met the kids who were killed at UNCC, but I know them. They basically live down the street, they look and dress and sound like my kids, they share the same music, the same aspirations, they live — lived — the same fears. All of them have been through active shooter training at their schools a dozen times, as I imagine that the kids in Colorado did, and while UNCC did a great job responding to the alarm, it couldn’t save all of them. Nor could the school in Colorado.
Those drills — like what to do when your airplane starts plunging in a downward spiral out of control. Put your own oxygen mask on first. They won’t save everyone either, or sometimes hardly anyone, but maybe they’ll keep you a little more calm until the bitter end. The kids themselves have adopted a fatalistic attitude about it all. Children know — long before a kid should know — that there are no guarantees of tomorrow. Kids as young as kindergarten and first grade are learning about impermanence. I remember reading about war-torn countries when I was a child, imagining their fear, and thinking how lucky we were in America; no more.
Apparently it is not enough to be in the midst of a final exam, or to graduate with mounds of debt. One must also know how to apply pressure to gunshot wounds, and be brave enough to tackle a shooter.
Just a couple of days after UNCC, there was a “vague threat on social” at our high school, as if it’s just the latest fad, although real enough to fill the school with officers for a day or two. One might think that having had a serious incident so close to home would put the fear of death in everyone, but such is not the mind of a would-be shooter. My daughter kissed me goodbye the next morning, laughed and said, “Hope I don’t get shot today.” The really funny part? She says that every time there’s a threat at her school. That it has become old hat, does not ease my heart. Strangely enough, the local media reported just yesterday that these threats — and incidents — are now so common that they don’t always report on them. Guess it’s only news when there’s a body count. For now, at least.
When we let these slaughters continue, we aren’t just killing a handful of people here and there, we are killing childhood. Gun advocates would have us believe that the Parkland kids aren’t real. They are.
Here is a quote from UNCC student Miranda Finch:
A shooting happened in my class today.
Not only was I in the room, but the shooter shot in my direction, at my table. He was releasing bullets in my direction. This is the first time I have ever heard a gunshot, and it’s terrifying.
He shot three of my group mates, who are amazing and brave people. One of them was left in critical condition, one was shot twice in her lower back and upper abdomen, and one was shot in the forearm. RIGHT. NEXT. TO. ME. I had blood on me, and once we escaped into prospector, I had to help my friend keep pressure on her gunshot wound.
This experience will be something I will always remember. However, this does not define me. I refuse to let an experience like this take over me. I refuse to be stuck in fear, and never go into a classroom again. This experience taught me that I need to be strong. I was not shot, but because of that I helped those who needed help. I called 911 and I followed every order and every command. I needed to help those who needed it.
My condolences to EVERY family this affects.
All I need to do now is heal. Thank God to the survivors, and prayers for the deceased. ❤️
And, a statement from the family of Riley Howell, who was killed tackling the gunman at UNCC:
Riley was truly a one of a kind guy. He loved all things outdoors, adventure, and especially family. He loved to work outside and when he worked, he did it with his hands and his heart. He always was able to put others before himself and never hesitated to help anyone who needed it. He was friends with anyone and everyone — a big, muscular guy with a huge heart. He loved Star Wars, birds, cars, snowboarding, going to the lake, Kentucky Hot Browns cooking from scratch with cast iron while listening to the Feel Good Classic Soul playlist, and his Lauren. He could also put away a pizza.
He was the kind of person who you knew would take care of you the moment you met him, and he always did.
He radiated love and always will. As a friend said, “Beautiful souls like Riley are always with us in the way they made life more beautiful.”
And here is Riley with his Lauren, his long-time girlfriend:
Miranda is and Riley was real. Apparently it is not enough to be in the midst of a final exam, or to graduate with mounds of debt. It is not enough to worry about finding your first real job or figuring out who you really are in this world. One must also know how to apply pressure to gunshot wounds, and be brave enough to jump on an active shooter.
When I write about these horrific crimes, sometimes I include stats and sometimes I do not. Stats typically add — or perhaps used to add? — veracity to one’s claims. So I can blather on about how firearms are the second leading cause of death for children in the US — just a hair less than motor vehicles and double that of cancer — and the primary cause for black children. I could talk about mass shootings in general vs. school shootings, domestic shootings, police shootings, suicide, and accidental vs. intentional gun deaths.
Most of the time, I don’t bother, and for several reasons. First, I took enough stats in college to know that you can make the numbers say whatever you’d like, and people who support the NRA are of course very practiced in this. Second, the numbers vary by source (with most saying that key categories are under-reported), and people will attempt to discredit them by citing another source which is fairly easily done. The sources are really good at sounding legit and hiding their political intent. But any dimwit with any connection to reality whatsoever can see that school shootings are increasing, that it is an almost uniquely American phenomenon, that some types of guns are more popular than others.
When I leave out the numbers, this really sends the people who are more concerned about numbers than children. The odds of getting killed in school are still very slim, they say. Our schools are still very safe overall, they say. It’s not a gun issue but a mental health issue, they say (yes, these same people who only trot that last argument out for white shooters, and notably don’t support mental health funding anyway). What they’re really trying to say about me? You’re not listing the numbers, You don’t know what you’re talking about.
I can’t even tell you how often one of my kids has had a reason to say, Hope I don’t get shot today. How many times my five exchange kids over the years have said, Don’t think I’ll mention this to my parents back home. How often my own heart has fallen to the floor.
I don’t suppose that these people really don’t care about children at all, they just care more about their guns. Or they’re thoroughly brainwashed. Or most likely they understand that talking about real, live (or dead) kids will never win them any points. Normal readers, normal people may have some sympathy with gun owners, they may appreciate numbers, but they do not want to see America’s children called collateral damage. Normal readers, normal people care about kids. Normal people cry when they see Riley’s picture. Bailey Holt’s picture. Martin Duque Anguiano… Alaina Petty… Alex Schachter…or the latest, Kendrick Castillo, who also tackled his shooter.
So let’s talk about the kids — who are the main reason I choose to skip over the stats. Yes, it’s a very small number of kids who actually die in school shootings (or are even shot). One could call them collateral damage, if one wishes to be pragmatic about our children and our future. We can ignore that they were smart kids, brave kids, possibly the kids who would have cured cancer or solved global warming, the center of their parents’ universe and their reason for breathing. We can ignore that there is no good reason for them to be dead at all.
We can ignore those families and friends, who are five or ten or fifty times as many in number as the kids who were killed. Almost anyone who has lost a child — in a violent manner or otherwise — will tell you that it’s hard to wake up without thinking about them every morning for the rest of their lives. Every family occasion will remind them, every one of life’s celebrations that happen to some other kid. When someone doesn’t mention their dead kid or friend — they notice. The days, the years, the dollars and lack of sleep, the love and memories they carried into raising those children up.
Still a relatively small number, I suppose, if you’re still counting. Expanding the circle outward, though, are all of the other kids and teachers who were there or absent that day. Those survivors who know firsthand now, just how expendable they all are. Those who will jump at every loud noise for the next few years, or maybe forever. Those who will suffer survivors’ guilt, or possibly even kill themselves as some of the Parkland kids recently did. The teachers who wonder if they could have or should have done more. The parents of the survivors who still got the texts saying He’s in my classroom, and wandered around in a fog wondering for hours whether they are still parents at all. And all of the law officers and medics who carried out the bloody bodies, the images indelibly etched into their memories. Who then go home to their own kids.
But it hardly stops there. Remember that in-school training I mentioned, or those “lesser” incidents? Every school in America, every one of our children. I can’t even tell you how often one of my kids has had a reason to say, Hope I don’t get shot today. How many times my five exchange kids over the years have said, Don’t think I’ll mention this to my parents back home. How often my own heart has fallen to the floor. I can’t imagine there is a single, loving parent in the country who hasn’t felt this numerous times — even those in favor of less restrictive gun laws. In a state with more guns than people, half of our high school stays home following a threat.
Last but not least are the millions of teachers in the US, caught both literally and figuratively in the crosshairs of guns and politicians. My husband, for example, a teacher who has seen numerous guns and knives across his tenure, and the rise in school security that never seems to be sufficient. Now many lobbyists and politicians would have us believe that these teachers, who are by their very nature and choice of profession nurturers — who spend eight hours of every day and every year trying to mold our children into the best possible human beings they can be — should also carry guns and be able to kill these same children at a moment’s notice.
These politicians and lobbyists claim the teachers “are good with it.” That teachers, who have never done much of anything simply for the money, will happily carry guns if we pay them more, they say. It’s okay to loosen rather than tighten the concealed carry and other gun laws, they say. They have “stats,” they say. So do I. (I’ve also seen the stats on their NRA funding.)
But even more importantly, I have children. Riley’s parents had a child whose spirit lives on. And all of these children, these brave, committed kids who have been through active shooter training and are still willing to tackle a gunman, might be the only hope America has left. Let’s hope they survive it.
Or, we could finally decide that they matter and enough is #enough.