It’s that terrible scene that you’ve seen too many times – on television, in the newspaper, on the front cover of Time Magazine, in your nightmares, on slideshows at presentations – being shown suddenly, unexpectedly, shockingly.
It’s the name of your high school – where you were on the colorguard, where you developed a love for Shakespeare, and where you kissed your first boyfriend in the parking lot – being used as a noun that encompasses some of the most horrifying tragedies that have happened in our nation in the last 19 years.
It’s the fact that shootings just keep happening, and yours is a part of the national dialogue every time.
It’s your trauma being resurfaced over and over and over again, for 19 years.
Today I went willingly into a room with my fellow seminarians to learn more about what to do in the case of an active shooter on our seminary campus. It’s an informational session I’ve sat through many times, and even helped facilitate a few times. It’s a session that is always accompanied by a pounding heart, waiting for my school – Columbine – to be named. I wonder what will this presenter say about us? Today I thought I was in the clear. The presentation began with graphs depicting the statistics about school shootings from 2000-2013. And then, on the next slide, was the infamous black and white security camera photo of my school cafeteria, featuring tables, backpacks, and two armed students*. It’s a photo we’ve all seen many, many times, and I wonder if it is even recognizable it as a school cafeteria, or if it is just a symbol for massacre. For us, it was our commons. We bought Chick fil a sandwiches from the lunch line, and blueberry bagels with cream cheese from the school store. Our English class celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday there, with a multitude of birthday cakes and extravagant singing.
That security camera photo shocks me every time. It’s a place I know so thoroughly, and yet it’s also a place that’s so incredibly foreign. My brain has tried to reconstruct what it felt like for my friends to be there, to hide under those tables, to run out those doors, to race to lock themselves in a bathroom stall with their feet up, while they heard the ringing of bullets inside our lunchroom.
Onwards from that photo in the presentation, it’s the language, seemingly informational, seemingly innocuous.
“…Jefferson County handled it poorly…”
“…the science teacher…”
“…13 kids killed…”
It seems merely factual, but it’s so much more. It does not define, and it does not rule me, but it shapes me in a dramatic way. It’s what I process and grieve and process and grieve and process and grieve – and it’s been an enormous challenge for the last 19 years.
For the 13 who lost their lives and for the two who took their own lives at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999; for the 27 who lost their lives and for the one who took his own life connected with Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012; for the 17 who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018; and for the many, many victims of gun violence that have taken place between these tragic events – we must as a society acknowledge the devastating and massive implications of these events. It’s the 13, the 27, and the 17 who are tragically impacted, and it’s the countless parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, classmates, teachers, pastors, neighbors, and so many more, who feel the heartbreaking impact of these tragedies long after the media has stopped reporting and people have stopped attending candlelit vigils.
I sat in a meeting today, with my hair curtaining my face, hands clenched in my lap, willing myself to breathe, to calm down – it would be over soon – until it wasn’t over and I could no longer contain my emotions and so I ran out of the meeting room and cried in the bathroom.
It’s been 19 years, and nothing has changed about the tragedy of school shootings. The devastation and destruction that this type of tragedy creates lasts for a lifetime for every single person who is involved.
When a school shooting happens, peace is destroyed. Peace for families, left with a gaping hole; peace for teachers, left forever watching the door and thinking about places to hide; peace for students, left with memories or imaginings of the violence that happened in their library, their science classroom, by their locker, to their friend; peace for communities, left with the awareness that they are not safe.
School shootings destroy peace immediately, and they continue to bring destruction that lasts and lasts, 19 years later and beyond. When we do not change the laws that allow school shootings to continue happening or that do not properly provide mental health support, or when we do not elect public officials who believe gun violence is an issue and are willing to do something about it, we are collectively saying that it is okay for our children to be killed at school. We are saying it is okay for countless students and teachers to struggle with PTSD and anxiety and depression and addiction, long after their high school years are over. We are saying it is okay for families to be torn apart.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Everyone agrees this is not okay.
But still, nothing has changed.
I can do better. You can do better.
We can do better, together.
Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of the shooting at my high school, Columbine High School. Tomorrow my social media will be flooded with Columbine flowers, and words of peace and love, just as it has been for the last 12 years since I joined social media.
It is time for that, and it is time for MORE. It is time for all of us who are outraged to add our voices to the swelling tide of those who are marching, speaking out, and demanding change. It is time for us work together to help our lawmakers understand what’s really at stake in our schools and for our nation when we allow this violence to move forward unchecked.
Write a letter to the editor, write or call your congressman, write or verbalize your support of a politician who shares your outrage and your dreams, write or talk to a friend or family member about why this issue matters. Ensure you are registered to vote, and plan to vote in the upcoming primary elections. Find your local chapter of Moms Demand Action and show up to the next meeting. Go to an event on the 20th and march or stand or protest in solidarity. Visit Protect Our Schools to learn more and to take action.
It is my hope that, 19 years later, you will finally be angry enough and heartbroken enough and sick of it enough that you will join with me to say “NO MORE” with your words, your actions, your dollars, and your votes.
*Please visit No Notoriety for more information and a challenge to mass media.
Read Part 1 here
Read my story from April 20, 1999, written in 2012, here