I remember the Columbine shooting like it was yesterday. It was a rainy April afternoon in 1999, very bleak but mild. When I turned on the television, I was hardly prepared for what I saw and what I heard. Two boys had committed what was, at the time, a shocking crime at their Littleton, Colorado, high school. They had shot and killed 12 students and one teacher. They’d injured 21 additional people.
On Friday, another school, another community was ravaged by gun violence. Ten people were killed and 13 were injured by another boy, this time in Santa Fe, Texas. I wish I could say I was shocked and at a loss for words, but I can’t. I’m not sure how I felt, for Friday’s shooting was the twenty-second school shooting of this year, and they’re no longer anomalous acts of violence.
On April 20 of this year, I was covering the national school walkout for the Advocate. I followed Amherst Regional High School students as they marched in protest to Amherst Commons. Although it was the anniversary of Columbine, this walk was in response to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people had been killed on February 14, again by a disenfranchised boy with a gun.
As I looked into the faces of these young people in Amherst, I could see their genuine passion as they chanted to bring an end to gun violence through stricter legislation. They weren’t asking for the world, they just wanted to be safe in school. They recognized the faces of their peers who had perished in Parkland and it was personal. They wanted the adults to step up; they wanted Washington to step up.
Parkland, after all, was an egregious and shocking event, ranked as one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Moreover, it was in large part a culmination of government systems failures. Washington had a chance to right some wrongs and to prove it existed by the will of the people.
Surely, those in power would yield in the wake of such a terrible tragedy, even though very little had changed in the aftermath of Newtown where 20 six and seven year olds had died at the hands of, yes, another disenfranchised “boy” with a gun. But these teenaged voices were adamant, reflecting the panic and rage at a system that had seemingly turned a blind eye to the deaths of children who were doing nothing other than going to school.
The collective cry for change carried across the country that day; from Hawaii to Maine students walked out of classrooms to protest lax gun laws and government’s failure to protect its citizens. Even those of us who despaired over the recalcitrant heart of the Washington legislature believed it might be moved to listen to the calls from some of its youngest citizens.
As I listened to the Amherst Regional kids’ speeches, I was moved by their urgency and swept up in the promise of what I believed might come from those nationwide protests. What I forgot, however, was Parkland would not be the last school shooting; there would be 13 more in rapid succession, including Santa Fe.
On Sunday I read a report by The Washington Post. It stated that the number of people killed in school shootings in 2018 is nearly double the number of casualties of US service members. Twenty-nine deaths on school grounds versus thirteen deaths of active military men and women. It would seem that schools have become theaters of war, and that taking your child’s safety for granted is no longer an option.
There was a young girl named Paige Curry who was interviewed after the Santa Fe high school massacre. She couldn’t look up at the camera, her hair blowing in the breeze. The reporter asked her, “Was there a part of you that was like, “This isn’t real. This could not happen at my school?” She replied, “there wasn’t.” When asked why so, she stated, “it’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always felt it would eventually happen here too.”
I won’t make the same mistake of thinking Santa Fe will be the last school shooting this year — or even this month. Rather, I think of the high school students at Amherst Regional and all the students who walked out in order for their pleas to be heard. I wondered if their fervor would be tamped down by the crushing weight of inaction on the part of Washington. I reached out to my friend Leif Maynard, a student at Amherst Regional.
“Like many high school students across the country, I am becoming desensitized to this type of mass violence against my peers,” Leif wrote. “And to allow an entire generation to grow used to tragedy and slaughter is unacceptable.”
Gina Beavers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.