When is enough enough?

When is enough enough?

“I love you mom. If I don’t make it, I love you mom.”

Haunting words texted by one teen last week as parents waited outside a Florida high school, wondering if their children would make it out alive. Luckily, that girl did; 17 other people didn’t.

Think about getting that message on your phone instead of the usual “I forgot my lunch” or “Can you pick me up after volleyball practice?”

Every school shooting — and how much have we failed as a society that we can even write that phrase? — takes parents to that dark place in our imagination that we fear most.

But some stand out.

Five years ago, we grieved as a nation after 20 first-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school were gunned down by a mentally ill man with enough ammunition to kill hundreds more.

Sandy Hook was one of the worst moments in our history. To think of those innocent young faces, at perhaps the sweetest age of childhood — it was too much. And it hit too close to home.

I wrote a blog post back then after trying and failing, like so many others, to make sense of it. All I could think of were parents just like me racing to the school, hoping and praying that their child wasn’t hurt, or worse — but not wanting it to be their best friend, either. No one can forget the heartbreak of the Sandy Hook families who were taken to a nearby firehouse, where they learned their children wouldn’t be coming home. Unimaginable.

I had no answers then, just agreed with those who called for sensible gun restrictions, who demanded more support for mental health, who just wanted to wrap their kids in a bubble and never let go.

Last week’s Florida shooting struck the same nerve. Maybe it was the graphic cellphone videos taken inside the classrooms, with screams of terror as the gunman fired more than two dozen shots, or SWAT teams bursting into a classrooms of frightened students.

Maybe it was the photos of high school girls and boys, just like mine, clinging to each other as police evacuated them from the building. Or the stories of the assistant coach and social-studies teacher who died protecting students.

Maybe it was the voices of young survivors, recounting in excruciating detail how they saw the body of their teacher in a doorway or heard a classmate dying in the hall, calling for his mom.

Maybe it was the mother of one victim being interviewed on cable news, literally screaming at politicians to stop bickering and take action.

Or maybe it was the high school student who looked calmly into the camera and explained what was needed. Thoughts and prayers, he said, are not enough.

This isn’t the way we should be living. We are better than this.

Teacher Melissa Falkowski told CNN she was teaching her fourth-period newspaper class when the fire alarm went off, triggered by the gunman. As she took her class out in the hall and started down the stairs, a security guard turned her back with the words, “It’s a Code Red.” An active shooter.

She scrambled to get her students back in the classroom, gathered up others in the hallway and shut the door. Falkowski and 19 students huddled in a corner, then decided to hide in a closet. They stayed there for 30 minutes, quietly texting and calling family members as they heard the helicopters overhead. Finally, the SWAT teams reached their class, and they were evacuated.

The school had gone through active-shooter training, run drills, taught the students what to do. And 17 people still died.

“We could not have been more prepared for this situation,” she said. “We did everything we were supposed to do.

“I feel today, our government, our country, has failed us, and failed our kids, and didn’t keep us safe.”

She’s right. We have failed them. And the children of Sandy Hook. And the victim of every other mass shooting since.

People tell us not to politicize these shootings, to wait and consider what action to take once emotions have cooled.

I think every single one of us should take this personally, and imagine our own children in fourth-period science or English or math class, huddling in a closet, not knowing if they will ever see their families again.

And then ask what we would want.

Surely we can reach some reasonable agreement, whether it’s better communication between schools and law-enforcement agencies to flag dangerous individuals, better follow-through by the FBI, better mental-health treatment or, yes, maybe a few tweaks to gun laws that keep mass killing machines out of the hands of madmen. To keep all of us safe.

A collective call to action after Sandy Hook, led by heroic parents, led to some changes, but not enough.

The difference this time: The survivors are older. They’re speaking out. They’re fighting back on social media and planning marches. They want action.

And they’ll be voting soon.

_________________

Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and coves higher education for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.

 

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