In the wake of Friday’s tragic shooting, people find themselves asking why and how this happened. This is a tough question. Fifteen years ago, on a chilly December morning, the Monday we returned to classes after Thanksgiving break I was late to school. Being the spoiled fourteen year old child that I was, too good to ride the bus and not old enough to drive, my grandfather took me to school every morning. I was getting ready to leave when my neighbor, Hilary, called. She had had a fight with her boyfriend, was running late and had locked her keys in her car. She was upset and wanted a ride. I told her to come on over; we would wait for her. This possibly saved my life. We arrived at school at around 7:30. My grandfather made the circle in front of the building and dropped us off. We walked through the lobby as the prayer circle was forming. She asked if we could go and drop her books off in the ITV room because her books were heavy. She had AP US History that was taught by teacher at another school in the district. I can’t remember what I had first period. I know I had French second period but I cannot recall what I had for first period. We met our friend Sharon, who also had US History, they were both juniors and I was only a sophomore. Hilary launched into a tirade about her fight with Chad. I remember being annoyed because I knew we wouldn’t make it to prayer circle. I tried to herd them along with no success. Finally we made it out the door, down the hall, and had just entered the lobby area when I heard the shots. I don’t know how I knew, I’d never really been around guns before, but I knew. I turned to Hilary and yelled, “Those are gun shots!” I grabbed her hand and dragged her down the hallway back to the ITV room. I lost Sharon in the shuffle but she ended up in the room too, along with about ten other kids. I remember Brooke coming up to me and sobbing, “Jessica’s down, Jessica’s down.” There were no more shots to be heard but I had no clue what was going on. There was no teacher, because it was the ITV room. There was no one but us kids. There was a bookcase by the door. I shut the door and locked it. Then we moved the bookcase in front of the door. I remember being concerned because the bookcase was short and you could still see through the top portion of the window of the door. Everyone sat on the floor. After a bit you could hear the ambulances pulling up. We waited…..and waited. We could hear the paramedics entering the building. It was the first time I felt like I was no longer in danger. Up until that point I kept wondering if he was going to come down the hall. We went to the window and watched. This is moment I can pinpoint as the most traumatic moment of my childhood. Other kids turned away but I watched. I watched them load 8 people into ambulances. I couldn’t see down to the far end of the building. I couldn’t tell who they were loading up. Closer I couldn’t tell who it was because I couldn’t identify the person because of all the blood and trauma trappings. Then came Jessica. My French study partner, she was also in my youth group at church. We had become close that year. She was kicking and screaming. Pulling her oxygen mask off her face; fighting like hell. For some reason this comforted me. Obviously she was going to be ok. And off they went. It would be the last time I saw her alive. Shortly after there was a knock at the door, it was Mrs. Sharron. She led us out the side door and all the way around the building to the gym. I just sat on the bleachers, numb. Suddenly my mother was there, with her hands on my knees, “Are you alright?” And then I began to cry.
It was weeks before I could go back into that French classroom. I never could sit in the same seat. I think Madam Upshaw gave me a “C” out of sympathy. There were councilors available to us but what was there to say? I recently read a blog by one of my classmates and realized that I have some of the very same feelings that she does. That I probably have PTSD. I have an unnatural fear of losing things (people, possessions, memories). I am morbidly curious about death. I also have an irrational fear that creeps up on me from time to time. I just get freaked out and my heart races. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed and some days I don’t want to leave the house. I guess you can say that even fifteen years later I’m still traumatized.
But what does this have to do with gun control? You may ask. Well the guns used in the shooting at Heath High School were stolen, from a locked neighbor’s garage. From a locked gun cabinet, he just happened to know where the owner hid the key. There’s not a gun law that would have stopped that. He used a semi-automatic pistol. Would banning all semi-automatic weapons have stopped him? I don’t think so. He had a rifle and a shot gun in addition to the hand gun he used. So a ban on semi-automatic weapons wouldn’t have helped. He probably would have just used something else. He only fired eight shots but he managed to hit eight targets. So smaller clip laws wouldn’t have helped. The point is I don’t think any gun law would have helped.
What I do think would have helped would be if someone, anyone, would have taken the time to ask this kid what was up with him? He heard voices. If there wasn’t such a stigma attached to mental illness then maybe he would have talked to someone. We get immunizations and physicals in order to be in school, why can’t we get mental health screenings. Many people have commented on various shooters that they had “mental problems.” Well then why weren’t they given help? For one thing it is so hard to get someone committed. They have to make threats towards themselves or some else. Even if a problem is known about, unless that person volunteers for treatment then there is nothing that can be done. Counseling, especially in the area where I live, is not readily available. The stigma attached to mental illness is hard to overcome. This discourages people from seeking help because they don’t want to be labeled as crazy.
I guess there are no easy solutions. This is a societal problem. If we don’t care about others than it makes sense that we wouldn’t value their lives. It is only until those lives are taken senselessly that then we care. It is likely that no one showed care and concern for this shooter. If you are never shown empathy how are you supposed to learn it? It is my belief that as a human race we must begin to take more care and consideration for each other. That we must think about how our words and actions affect others.