My hands are shaking and my heart is racing as I attempt to get my thoughts typed out. The tears are swelling and dropping heavily onto my laptop. I don’t even know what to write.
All I know is that roughly 24 hours ago, an armed gunman entered my high school and killed, at this point in time, 17 individuals – a combination of students and teachers. And when I say my high school, I will clarify that I’m 19 years removed. I graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1999, the same spring that the Columbine High School Massacre occured. This mass school shooting shocked the nation and every school felt some sort of ripple effect. Trench coats were banned and there was a higher awareness that school was not as safe as it seemed, but the threat we felt almost two decades ago pales in comparison to the current threat to students today.
In an ironic sequence of timing, I had been completing the book “A Mother’s Reckoning; Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy” by Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold. I’m not sure exactly how it ended up in my list of books to read, but I had started the book on Tuesday of last week and slowly listened to the audio book chapter by chapter as she spoke of her experience of the event. She disclosed details of a positive family life and her guilt and agony over her ignorance to Dylan’s depression and plans for the massacre. I could identify greatly with her as a parent and suddenly as her story unfolded I could see, as a parent, how this truly could be anyone’s son. I cannot do the book, or her story justice, by explaining it in my own words, but I do suggest that everyone read it – especially before making assumptions about the shooter, their upbringing, the ability to identify markers of intent, and so on. We think we know, but in reality, we don’t.
That said, I had spent the last week and half reminiscing about my high school, especially my senior year – the year in which the shooting occured. Dylan and Eric, the gunmen, were my age and also senior’s in their own high school when the murders occurred. I visualized our hallways, classrooms and courtyards, and imagined what it would have been like if we had been attacked. In between chapters I started researching school shootings and gun laws. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that Columbine hadn’t changed any laws and in fact it seemed to be getting easier to acquire guns and make modifications to said guns in order to make them automatic weapons. This book was challenging to get through – and reading it as a parent had a stronger impact on me then it ever would have pre-kids.
I was in the last few chapters of the book yesterday as my phone started buzzing uncontrollably. Family and high school friends were reaching out to notify me of the current tragedy unfolding between the walls of our alma mater. Children were being gunned down in the same school, where we grew into adults. My head started spinning and I felt like I was in some sort of virtual reality. How was it that I was literally reading a book about Columbine and visualizing a mass shooting (albeit circa ’99) all week and now it was actually occurring. Did I put this into the universe? Did I cause this? I know, I know – this seems completely egocentric, but let me just tell you that I felt like I was in an episode of Black Mirror and it is the first time I truly started to question that maybe, as Elon Musk declares, we are indeed living in a virtual world. I could not wrap my head around any of it. In addition to the odd coincidence of reading this book, I have two hometowns – the one I grew up in pre-college (Coral Springs/Parkland) and the city I moved to for college and lived in until 2 years ago when we got transferred to DC (Orlando). Within the last two years since moving away from Florida, both my hometowns have been hit with mass shootings (Pulse and Douglas HS). I was reeling.
As the story unfolded it turned out the gunman was a 19 year old former student of the high school. All I could think about was the fact that Columbine happened while I was a senior at Stoneman Douglas high school 19 years ago. This was the same time this shooter was entering the world. We had his entire lifetime to figure things out – to make things better. But instead, things have simply gotten worse and the number of casualties from yesterday’s event were far greater than Columbine, which was the largest school shooting at the time. How is this even possible?
I will say that one positive of social media, is that within hours Douglas alumnae from all over were reconnecting. We are a relatively new school as it opened in 1990 in the new and growing town of Parkland, Florida and even though it is a large school it is a pretty tight knit community. We were banning together talking about how to support our alma mater, work towards change, provide relief counseling and aid to the victims and families, and just using each other for support to mourn this unfathomable tragedy.
During the discussions online another classmate of mine brought up the fact that for the rest of our lives, everyone will know Stoneman Douglas High School – on an international level, because of this tragedy. What was once a top rated school in a town ranked as one of the safest in America, will now forever be remembered for a school massacre. But for me, I choose to remember Douglas for what it was for me. A place of love and life. Of self discovery and growth. A place where I experienced love for the first time as well as heartache. A haven for friendships that still thrive to this day. This was our home for four years. Not every moment was positive and I know that high school doesn’t feel safe (emotionally and physically) for everyone, but overall my experience was positive and it shaped me into the woman I am today.
I never realized there would be a day where I felt thankful that I made it out of those walls alive, but I would imagine it is on the minds of all the survivors in that school today. Our kids should not be fearful to walk into school and parents should not wonder if they will make it home alive. If today’s kiss goodbye will be the last.
The amount of pain that is in my heart today cannot even compare with a fraction of what the affected families and friends are feeling. But within days my life will return to normal and I will go through my day to day with only fleeting thoughts of the incident. And before long it won’t be on my mind much at all unless triggered by something. This is not the case for any of the current students at Douglas. Nor the families that lost loved ones. I’m not sure if anyone can truly say if this tragedy was preventable, but it was certainly unnecessary and I truly believe we have to do everything in our power to reduce the chances that this will happen again in any other school – or any location for that matter.
The time is now. While it is in our face and the energy and emotion is strong. Before we accept this as the new normal.
Another alumnae in our support group said it very well. Whether you believe the issue is about gun control, mental health, school security, or other issues, we can all agree that there is a problem. So instead of fighting each other on who is correct on the root cause or which solution will actually fix the problem and remaining at status quo – let’s each work towards what we believe is the correct solution!
What’s the worst case scenario?
Maybe we will wake up one day to a world with better gun regulations that help slow down the process of acquiring firearms, creating better red flags for possible shooters trying to buy guns, a ban on bump stocks, better access to mental health counseling and resources to help reduce the likelihood of the shootings in the first place, and better security within our schools.
Seems like a win-win-win to me.
Ready to take action?
One easy step you can take is to reach out to your representative! You can use RESISTBOT (https://www.resist.bot) to easily phone, fax, or email your representatives. Or text “resist” to 50409.
Want to DONATE to help support the victim’s families and those affected? Click HERE to donate through the Broward Education Foundation.
Let’s not get stuck in the status quo. It’s time for change. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle. It’s time to soar higher. #eaglepride #douglasstrong