I went to Columbine High School. Remember that name? It was the site of one of deadliest school shootings in American history. Two students killed 13 classmates, then committed suicide in the library.
Most people remember where they were when the World Trade Center fell. I do, too. But just as vividly, I remember the day when I found out there had been a shooting at the Denver-area high school I had graduated from. I had just returned from classes as a junior at Colorado State University. My head was full of all of the things I needed to do to succeed in school and in life.
That all changed when the phone rang.
My high school friend, Greta, called to tell me that the news was reporting an incident at Columbine High School. My first thought was, “Oh I can’t believe the media is making such a big deal over something that is probably nothing.” I had always felt very safe at my school and in my community. Nothing like this had ever even crossed my mind. But I quickly came to realize that this news was nothing to downplay.
In one shocking and heartbreaking day, 15 people died.
That day forever changed the way we, as Americans, felt about our sense of safety. Those who lost their lives on April 20, 1999, included a beloved teacher, who once had been my next-door neighbor, a classmate’s cousin and another classmate’s sister.
Those school shootings rocked not only our small community, but the world.
Shock, Outrage and Cries for Change
I remember being riveted to the television screen, horrified.
I heard stories about how law enforcement did not even know how to handle this situation because it HAD NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. At that time, it was the worst school shooting in the history of the United States. Americans questioned our society and its values and vowed to change. There were protests, rallies, sweeping changes in school and law enforcement safety protocols, and talk of wide spread government changes that would ensure nothing like this would ever happen again.
We were united in our stance to protect innocent children and teachers.
Nearly 20 Years After the Columbine School Shootings
I’m ashamed to admit that when I first heard the news about the Valentine’s Day school shootings at a Florida high school, it didn’t shock me.
“Oh that’s really sad!” I thought, as I continued preparing dinner for my family.
When I told my 14 year old son, Gavin, he simply asked, “Where?”
This is the world he lives in.
It wasn’t until later that night when I heard that 17 people had been killed and many more injured that I felt the devastation. The hopelessness. And it made me realize how commonplace violence has become that it didn’t take my breath away until I heard the big number: 17. The truth is, if that disgruntled ex-high school student had hurt or killed only one person or caused one person to hide in fear, that should be equally unacceptable.
What Will it Take?
This is not a political issue. It is not about gun control or mental illness. This is an issue of the heart.
Have we as a society become so de-sensitized to violence that we just accept it as a fact of our lives?
Do we simply shake our heads in amazement and disapproval? Maybe shed a few tears, perhaps pray, and then continue on like nothing has happened after a few weeks? This is happening over and over again. Have we begun to accept it as the norm?
A Disturbing Trend
At my daughter’s elementary school, the doors are now locked. You have to be buzzed in to gain access during school hours and there is a safety officer on site. At my sons’ high school, there is very obvious school officer presence and video cameras everywhere.
This is how we as a society have addressed these school shootings. We have reacted to this violence instead of uniting to figure out why the shootings are happening and determining what we can do to prevent them.
When we hear about these tragedies, we care about those who are affected by violence. However, we also breathe easier because it didn’t happen to us. To our families.
But please, look at the trend. Realize that it can no longer be treated as a matter of “if,” but “when.”
Let’s Come Together
We live and breathe social media. There have been countless campaigns to create change. Every day, we see or hear about protests against local and federal government.
Where is the #movementtoendviolenceinourschoolsandcommunities?
When something like this happens, we are quick to point the finger at the perpetrator of the crime, the parents, the school, the community, the mental health industry, politics, this group or that one. It makes us feel better to assign blame for acts we don’t want to comprehend. But that doesn’t get us any closer to solving this issue.
What needs to be done to change our hearts so that people never turn to violence as a solution? I don’t have an answer, but I DO have an idea.
Let’s put down our smart phones, tablets and laptops and talk with each other and with our children. Let’s care about each others’ children and teach our children to care about each other. And let’s work together on projects big and small to make this world safer and less polarized.
We are all in this together.
Here are a few resources that might help get some conversations started: