I have been in four active shooter situations in my life. All of them before I turned 19.
I started school the fall after Columbine when lockdown and evacuation drills started to become expected, commonplace, normal in America.
Here are some headlines that are forever burned into my mind:
“First graders rushed inside following police involved shooting across the street.”
I was on the front steps of my elementary school walking to go to lunch. There were two loud pops and suddenly we were being rushed into the school, into the closest room. Twenty seven 7 year olds crammed into a school office unsure of what was going on. Most of us had never heard gunshots before.
“Armed parent leaves elementary school frantic while students at play, turns gun on himself as school child watches.”
A few days before, a father had lost custody of his daughter, and she was put into a foster home (the same one as me). We were out at recess, playing tag, jumping off of things we knew we weren’t supposed to, when this man came up to the gate and tried to get a few of us to go get his daughter for him, not knowing that she wasn’t at school that day. When the cops showed up, he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the closest child (me), yelling that if he couldn’t have his daughter then someone else would lose their child too. As I stood frozen in time, a teacher slowly inched toward me to try and get me away from his line of sight. At some point he turned the gun on himself, saying that he couldn’t live without his daughter. The teacher stepped in front of me as he pulled the trigger, just barely blocking me from seeing what had happened.
In the 2nd week of school, we were told that we were in a lockdown drill. We all knew that it was a lie, they almost never did drills during the first or last periods of the day because of how many students had late start or early release. The police began going up and down the hallways in formations of six, two with dogs, four with automatic weapons. The minutes became hours. Our teacher became more and more visibly anxious, looking at the clock and her email more and more frequently, trying to keep a class full of rowdy 14 year olds quiet, huddled in the corner, quietly making jokes to keep us from thinking about what was happening in the rest of our school.
Two hours and 26 minutes later our classroom door was pushed open by a semi-automatic rifle, two rushing in clearing the room, then just as quickly lowering the guns and telling us to get up, leave our things, and quickly walk with our hands on our heads.
The next day it was everything was back to normal as if the guns and the bombs were never even there. It became just a blip on the news, less than 90 seconds of coverage.
“Valley theater evacuated, gunman at large.”
I was 18. My then 10 year old sister, two of her friends, her mom and my dad were going to see a movie. My sister and one of her friends went out to go get candy, I stayed in the theater with the other friend, and (I think) our parents had also run to go get something before the movie started. Suddenly we were all being told that we were being evacuated because there was an active shooter in the building. As my group was running through the lobby, I tried to find my sister and was pushed outside and told that I could find her outside. It felt like an hour before I found them, I was panicking that she had gotten lost, or worse. We were in the parking lot for what felt like an eternity, until we were told that we would be reimbursed for the tickets and that we should just go home. We never spoke of it again.
Tuesday night, just this week, a headline announcing another school shooting popped up with pictures of kids no older than maybe, 7 years old, holding their hands on their heads being rushed out by a SWAT team.
As it does with every headline, my stomach dropped and I fought back tears, because I can’t believe this is still happening. I can’t believe that we still see multiple headlines a month, sometimes a week, where there is yet another school or mass shooting.
With every headline, I contemplate going and shutting off all of my kids’ alarms, keeping them home where I can maybe keep them safe, away from what feels like the inevitable.
I never do though, because I cannot pass on my fear of the possibility to them. I cannot look my kids in the eye and teach them to fear the world, I cannot teach them fear when they are taught what to do to hide from a shooter, from their first day of school, when each of their schools have had multiple shooting threats this year.
I choose to believe that there is still some, even if only a little, good in this world. I choose to put my own anxiety and my own fears aside in front of my kids, so that they don’t grow up too afraid to leave our house, too afraid to go to school or church. I don’t ever want them to fear the world, I also don’t ever want to get that call or text saying that there is a shooter in one of their schools.