I was feeding the kids breakfast when I heard the first siren a few blocks away. Not an uncommon experience since I live on a busy street near two other thoroughfares. But then there was a second siren, still a ways off, and a fire truck with its insistent tooting at an intersection. In a minute there were police cars speeding down my street with lights flashing and sirens blowing. I thought, “Wow, there must be a bad accident up there.” I was assuming some morning commuter had missed a light in his rush to get to work, or had turned in front of someone she hadn’t seen coming. I thought for a moment how quickly an ordinary day can turn into a nightmare for people involved in an accident.
In front of my house, students were walking to the school across the street and parents were dropping off their kids at the curb. Commuter and school traffic pulled over to let the ambulances and emergency vehicles pass. Many unmarked police cars were flying by, too, with their hidden lights flashing. It brought to mind the last time I had seen this many emergency vehicles called into action: years ago a police officer was shot and they did a manhunt not too far from my house. At the time, my kids were outside on the trampoline and I remember we began counting the 26 police cars going up our street.
So yesterday my husband called on his way to work having heard on the radio that there was a shooting at Reynolds High School. No details were available yet. I turned on the TV news to catch what I could without making the grandkids aware. Mostly there was guarded speculation: no one knew how many shooters or victims there were. The school was on lockdown and a report that a teacher had been shot was circulating. The TV cameras showed from a distance the 2,000 students being led single file out of the building with their arms raised to their heads. They were all searched and questioned. Worried parents started arriving at the school but were prevented from going near it. Everyone was texting their kids, and receiving texts. We learned that the students had been told to text their parents but not to call them. We heard that there was one victim and one gunman, also dead, and an injured teacher. The news reported sometime later that the victim was a girl which turned out to be incorrect.
In the meantime I texted my own kids (including 3 teachers) about what was happening and heard back that the middle school where my daughter teaches in the same district was also on lock down—three blocks away from the high school. The report they had was that there were 3 shooters and one of them was still at large in the neighborhood of the middle school. Students in the middle school had been texted by their parents about the shooting in the high school and anyone with a sibling at the high school was understandably worried. As a matter of fact, the spouse of the teacher injured at the high school is a teacher at the middle school. But in a lock down situation no one can leave or enter the building and the teachers’ role was to comfort and assure the students and help them to wait through the 6 hours of uncertainty without knowing the facts themselves.
This beautiful sunny day was the day before the last day of school, with kids dressed in shorts and excited about their summer plans. The day before had been their field day with races and relays and teachers and students laughing and cheering each other on. The high school graduation was two days away, the culmination and celebration of 12 years of friendships, schooling, and growing up. How quickly an ordinary day can be overturned! Time after time students told reporters about coming to school on the bus just like they did everyday, or getting dropped off by parents on their way to work and making their way to their first period class. Normal. And then they heard the ‘fireworks’ as they assumed it was, and then the stern lockdown procedure on the PA, “This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill.” They had to remain perfectly silent in their classroom with the blinds drawn and the lights off for about an hour while hearing the police move about in the halls.
In the afternoon the police released the identity of the victim, a 14 year old Freshman boy. He had attended the middle-school for the past 3 years and was well-liked by everyone. He was on the soccer team and active in sports. A nice kid, everyone said. Well-liked.
The news reporters kept saying “one victim and one gunman”. “Pray for the family of the boy who was shot”. “A grieving family tonight…” But I was thinking about the other dead person, the gunman and his family, too. There were 2 grieving families in deep shock over the devastation to their lives, one innocently and one in ignominy. I was guessing that the gunman was a fellow student because a student told a reporter that the police questioned her about seeing anyone on her school bus carrying a guitar case, which she had. Only a fellow student would be getting on a school bus, therefore…
But it wasn’t until today, Wednesday, that I learned the shooter was a 15 year old boy, a student at the high school also, a boy with siblings and parents who worried about him when they couldn’t reach him by texting yesterday. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot. So far no motive nor any relationship between the 2 boys is known. The gunman came heavily armed with an assault rifle and a semi-automatic pistol and a knife and dozens of rounds of ammunition. It could have been much, much worse.
But for these two families, it can’t get any worse. And I am deeply saddened for both of families and both young boys whose lives were abruptly cut off. I don’t know what demons haunted the shooter’s mind or what led him to this terrible desperation, but I feel pity for him that no one saw it and reached out to help. Already this situation has become a forum for gun–control opinions and politicizing but I wish we would spend as much thought on how we can improve the quality of life for our young people, provide discerning counselors along the way and affordable counseling for families in need.
Let’s love each other more.