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December 2, 2021

I won’t Accept that School Shootings are just a Part of Life Now.

An open letter to parents: our kids deserve better.

I will not accept that school shootings are just a part of life now. Not for one more day.

April 20, 1999.

I sat in my dorm room as a college freshman at Michigan State University, watching the tragic events at Columbine High School unfold. Having just graduated high school myself, I was horrified that these kids, my age, were facing such a terrifying situation.

I was riddled with questions that day in 1999.

“How did this happen? Why would someone feel compelled to commit such heinous acts? Weren’t there signs beforehand? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?”

The only answer I remember was “They played violent video games.” That didn’t feel like nearly enough.

Fast forward 22 years to November 29, 2021.

It was a beautiful morning; the sun was rising brightly, and fresh, powdery snow covered everything in sight. A light, hazy fog lingered just above the ground as I dropped my daughter and her friend off at middle school. A regular Tuesday as far as anyone was concerned, and I was sure it was going to be a good day.

After morning drop-offs, I went back home to start my workday. The morning flew by, filled with meetings and emails. As 1 p.m. rolled around, from my living room, I started to hear sirens.

I didn’t panic right away because I’m relatively close to the county police department, and sirens are commonplace. But they persisted. After 10 minutes, I started to feel unsettled. Distracted, I drifted in an out of work for the next few minutes.

The wail of the sirens remained. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It had gone on for far too long, and something felt extremely wrong. I decided to call my kids’ dad, who lived a few minutes away from me, just to check in with him and make sure he’s okay. But I didn’t get that chance.

My phone buzzed in my hand. It was my close friend, Amy, who also lives in the area. She told me she had just received a text from her oldest daughter from our local high school. Their school was on lockdown.

“But why?” Because there was an active shooter at Oxford High School, in the town north of us, just minutes up the road.

I thought to myself, “Well, it can’t be that bad because bad things like that just don’t happen here!” But from where Amy was at that moment, she saw emergency vehicles speeding, sirens still wailing, north and south on the main drag. My stomach dropped. The only reason an ambulance would be speeding south with its lights on and sirens screaming is if there were patients in transport.

In that instant, I knew it was bad.

What I once thought couldn’t happen here was in fact happening at that exact moment.

I thought of my kids. Were they safe? My first instinct was to rush out and pick them up. But after calming myself for a minute, I knew they were okay. But the overall panic remained as my phone started to blow up. No one knew what was happening. People were scrambling to find their kids and their family members.

I knew teachers there. “Were they okay?” My friends’ kids go there. “Oh god are they okay? Who is the shooter?” I was getting so much information thrown at me.

Ten shot, five dead. No, 21 shot, three dead.

None of this felt right. It had to be a bad dream. Finally, the local news picked it up and reported four shot and no fatalities, and the shooter, who was a 15-year-old sophomore there was in custody.

Hundreds of local units responded to the 100 911 calls that dispatch had received. Within five to seven minutes of that first call, the shooter had been apprehended without further gunfire. Well-done to the first responders, who no doubt saved at least seven lives—as there were seven bullets left in the semi-automatic handgun.

Not so surprisingly, the questions from my past came rushing back. “How did this happen? Why would someone feel compelled to commit such heinous acts? Weren’t there signs beforehand? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?”

Twenty-two years later, hundreds of lives lost across our country and there are still no answers and no solutions to prevent this from ever happening again.

I picked up my kids from their schools that afternoon.

We talked a lot. We hugged and cuddled. We cried, and we had a spontaneous dance-off just before bed. I explained what had happened that day. I didn’t have answers to all of their questions. I don’t know why a boy would do this at school…I’ve been asking myself this for 22 years. I taught them how to run, hide, or fight if they are ever faced with a shooter.

Let that sink in…I had to talk to my nine and 12-year-old daughters about how to run away, zig zagging in the halls at school if someone is trying to shoot at them. Nothing about that is okay.

Eleven people were shot at Oxford High School.

As of today, four kids have died from their wounds. Another four kids are currently hospitalized, and one teacher has been treated and released. Another teenager is in jail. Another local community rocked to its core, more families grieving, thousands of kids’ lives turned upside down.

For everyone in the area, including teachers, principals, first responders, and citizens, no one’s lives will ever be the same. Add Oxford, Michigan, a small town of 22,000 to the long, long list of communities in our country who have been hit with this kind of senseless violence.

Since Columbine in 1999, there have been 327 school shootings.

327.

I believed back then that surely after 12 children and one teacher were killed at that Colorado high school, it would be enough to spark change.

It didn’t.

Well then, there was definitely going to be massive change after 26 people were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Twenty of those 26 victims were sweet, little first-graders—six and seven years old.

Sobbing in front of the TV, with a new baby in my arms and a three-year-old running around, I thought, “Well this is finally going to be the one to wake people up, and we will get some lasting changes to protect these innocent kids.”

Nope. Those sweet six and seven-year-olds would be 15 and 16-year-olds today.

Then Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, when 17 people were killed in cold blood, 14 kids, three teachers. The students there demanded change, and while they had some statewide change, it wasn’t enough to protect them all.

As of today, 278,000 children have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine, including the 1,700-plus kids at Oxford High School here in Michigan.

That’s 278,000 kids with life-altering trauma that could have been prevented. My heart is so heavy today, like it has been so many times over the past 22 years. To me, the message is clear.

We have all failed our kids.

Gun laws absolutely play a huge part in this decade’s long tragedy. There is no reason a civilian needs an automatic or even semi-automatic weapon. There is no convincing me otherwise.

I do, however, believe in the right to bear arms (if you so choose). I’m not coming for everyone’s guns, and I’m not infringing on people’s rights. Go ahead and own 100 hunting rifles if you so wish. But be responsible.

Gun owners’ rights do not beat out others’ right to life. We make people go through months and months of driver’s training to get a driver’s license. Conversely, we hand any old idiot with some cash an automatic weapon, right on the spot. That is an issue. People don’t keep them locked up at home. That is another issue. And in the case of Oxford, Michigan, the father purchased this particular gun on Black Friday and kept it at home, the same home he shared with a 15-year-old who had exhibited possible signs of violence (“How To” create A Molotov Cocktail video on his YouTube Channel) and had behavior issues at school.

In fact, he was in the office with his parents and school administrators the morning of his killing spree. So, I ask again, “How was this missed?”

Teachers practice active shooter drills with our kids, and law enforcement trains extensively for these situations. I find myself wondering, “What is happening at home to prevent this from happening in the first place?

Everything starts at home. With us, the parents, and we must do better. So much better because our kids freaking deserve that. They deserve to not be afraid of walking into school on a sunny, snowy Tuesday morning in November and wonder if that is going to be the day they die at the hands of a classmate. School is a place that is supposed to be safe, fun, and full of learning.

Anything other than that is unacceptable.

“If you are not changing it, you are choosing it.”

We simply cannot choose or accept that school shootings are now a part of growing up. We say this kind of tragedy is “unimaginable,” but it happens all the time. So it’s actually pretty real and every parent’s worst nightmare.

Parents, it is time to change it before it happens in your town, God forbid.

Because I cannot take on national gun laws alone. I’m focusing on what I can control here and now. What I, as a mom, can do is make sure I am using the best of my ability on a daily basis to help prevent this from happening again.

Here are my promises to you and your sons and daughters, promises to do better and help keep all of our babies safe:

>> Check in on my kids daily. Every single day.

>> Spend quality time with them.

>> Teach them about self-love.

>> Check their phones and social media.

>> Understand their likes and dislikes.

>> Get to know what bothers or triggers them.

>> Create a safe space for them to share with me.

>> Help them with their friendships and relationships.

>> Talk to them about how they are feeling.

>> Understand and help them through their traumas.

>> Celebrate their successes with them.

>> Comfort them when they are down.

>> Teach them to be kind to other kids.

>> Teach them not to be bullies and how to prevent and stop bullying if they see it.

>> Learn more about the red flags of mental health distress in kids and teenagers.

>> Get them help if they need it and not be ashamed of it.

>> Teach them that there is never any shame in asking for help.

>> Teach them to report threats of violence at school and to me.

>> Call the police myself with any possible threats if the school does not.

>> Not purchase weapons for them.

>> Supervise them appropriately.

>> And most importantly, I will do my best to be present with them often, be available to them always, and love them unconditionally forever.

Can you promise me that you will do the same? If so, thank you. You are part of the solution. We are the grassroots movement.

If not…wake up. You are part of the problem.

There is so much more to be done in our communities, but we have to start somewhere. I can’t just sit back and say, “Maybe this time….”

So, this is my start at home as a parent. There will be more, but this is my start…today. What is your start?

Hug your loved ones tight tonight.

~

If you need resources, there are several listed below. Everything from talking to your kids about gun violence, to finding help for you or someone you love, to resources for those who have been through violent tragedy.

Talking to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War  

How to talk to children about shootings: An age-by-age guide 

Mental Health America – Help For Yourself

Mental Health America – Help For Others

Sandy Hook Promise

Trauma Survivors Network

National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence  

The National Child Trauma Stress Network

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