Another school shooting has happened this past week with nineteen students dead and two teachers. I gasped at the losses in this small Texas town and gulped down tears, not as a parent but as a retired teacher. Each repeated school slaying brings back my memories of Columbine. No, I did not have a child there; my best friend’s son was soon to graduate from there.
COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING
On April 20, 1999, I had just completed a busy school day at Washington middle school in Albuquerque, New Mexico and hadn’t listened to the news all day. We didn’t have Alerts pestering us all day with news and the such. As I left the building, a warm spring afternoon greeted me outside. I exhaled and enjoyed the warmth, walking out the front door with a peer.
As we gathered our belongings, she asked about my day. Then she queried me, knowing I grew up in Colorado, “Did you hear about the horrible school shooting in Colorado?” At just the mention of Colorado, some foreboding deep inside came to life.
“No, it was a busy day. Where was it?” We stopped near the street.
“Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado,” she replied. As my knees almost buckled, I steadied myself.
I shrieked, “Oh, no! My best friend’s son goes there. He’s graduating in a month. I’ve got to go!”
I left my friend standing there and ran to my car. I grabbed my clunky old cell phone and called my best friend and got a notification from the operator, “All lines are busy in Colorado. Call back later.”
Then I called my retired ex-husband to see if he had any news because he watched the early Evening News. His response was grim! That killing spree killed twelve students and a teacher and wounded twenty others.
On the twenty-minute drive home, I called my friend repeatedly, to no avail. When I got home, I fell sobbing into my ex-husband’s arm. No news yet from my friend, and of course, the national news wasn’t releasing any names yet.
After settling down some, we grabbed a quick dinner, glued to the TV. I kept calling my friend and finally, about nine o’clock I got through–her son was safe, but she shared an eerie story.
Habitually, her son ate lunch in the cafeteria at Columbine, which is where the two killers left “two duffel bags, each containing a 20-pound propane bomb set to explode at 11:17 a.m. The teens then went back outside to their cars to wait for the bombs to go off. When the bombs failed to detonate, the two shooters began their shooting spree.”
That day, of all days, my best friend’s son went home for lunch! That saved his life from that horrible school shooting.
As we talked, my best friend sobbed through the conversation with gratitude for her son’s life and grief for those killed.
AFTER THE COLUMBINE SCHOOL SHOOTING
As a teacher, I was never the same after Columbine. We found out later that the first 911 call came from a teacher under her desk with a cell phone. I vowed from that time forward to always have my cell phone close and available. No longer did the “Active Shooter” drill feel rote but necessary, and I explained why I felt so strongly to my classes after that.
COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL’S GRADATION THAT YEAR
On Saturday, May 22, 1999, a short three weeks after the school shooting, Mom and I attended my best friend’s son’s graduation. What should have been a joyous celebration of the culmination of twelve years felt overlaid with sorrow. I remember a heavy presence of the police force that day, fearing the unknown.
“Three of Columbine High School’s seniors left hospitals to graduate with their class Saturday. One rolled on stage in a wheelchair.”
One mother, grieving the loss of her daughter, “held up her daughter’s gown and gold collar, signifying her membership in the National Honor Society. The graduate’s sister and two brothers accepted her diploma. . .”
What pain yet resilience we witnessed that day!
A YEAR LATER
I moved to a new school in Albuquerque which didn’t have a dress code. One day, after being there just a few weeks, I stood at my door during passing period and saw an eighth grader coming towards me in a trench coat. I panicked—the two killers at Columbine wore trench coats to hide their guns and get them inside the school. Nothing happened that day at my new school, but I still remember that feeling.
2022 & THE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS CONTINUE!
Now it’s 2022 and another school shooting has happened! Names like Sandy Hook and Parkland have become familiar across the United States associated with school shooting, but nothing has changed since the Columbine shooting!
As many of you, many reputable news sources have bombarded us with data the last few days about school shootings and gun violence. Because of my experience with the Columbine school shooting, the Uvalde, Texas school shooting has gripped my heart deeply, now so many years later. In researching, I found support for some data I saw this week.
“The gunman in the deadliest school shooting in Texas history bought two AR-style rifles legally just after his 18th birthday — days before his assault on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The gunman bought 375 rounds of 5.56-caliber ammunition. . .”
Questions I have today:
- Why is it legal for an 18-year-old to buy not one but two AR-style rifles in any state in the United States with our track record?
- Why is it legal that he bought that much ammunition for that style rifle?
- After all these years, why are we still contending with this horrible evil?
- Still, why do children have to die in 2022 in the United States of America in insane school shooting sprees?
To answer my last question, look at some stunning statistics from across the world:
19 Countries with the Most School Shootings (total incidents Jan 2009-May 2018 – CNN):
- United States — 288
- Mexico — 8
- South Africa — 6
- India — 5
- Nigeria & Pakistan — 4
- Afghanistan — 3
- Brazil, Canada, France — 2
- Azerbaijan, China, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Kenya, Russia, & Turkey — 1
Leading this list worldwide should shock me, but it doesn’t!
Being a ranch girl, I learned to shoot as a child, but we didn’t have AR-anything. We had hunting rifles to provide food for our table. I respect guns, yet know the harm they can do. My childhood playmate was accidentally shot in the face with a pistol and endured a scarred face for a large part of her life.
Being a Christian, I agree with the power of prayers, but those words of prayer ring hollow from our legislators because they have done nothing since 1999 and Columbine to stop this horrendous epidemic. Yes, they have done something—taken money from gun lobbyists who encourage their customers they need AR-style rifles. School shootings have to stop. School safety must become a priority with everyone in our country—mostly those who make legislative decisions.
Being a retired schoolteacher, I remember those precious middle school students who entered my classroom, believing I would provide a safe environment for them. School shootings have shattered that safety. I don’t know how teachers survive today! Please, we must do something! I’m broken-hearted—once again!
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