My 14-year-old daughter and I had a long conversation the day after the Parkland School massacre. During our conversation, I mostly listened to her talk.
“If we ever have a school shooting I hope it happens during our second period. Second period I have chorus and we could all hide in the practice rooms. They have really heavy doors you know so the bullets won’t come through. Then when the shooting is over we could go into the band room and sneak out that door. If the shooting happened in another class, I might hide in a cabinet. I am pretty small so I think I could fit. But I really hope it happens in second period.”
Listening to my daughter talk about a possible school shooting like this BROKE MY HEART. That school violence is something she thinks about and prepares for like a geometry test broke my heart.
But I should not be surprised. My kids have been practicing “code red” drills since kindergarten. Code reds for them are a dark possibility that could happen at school just like a fire or tornado.
Except they are not.
My kids have not only had fire and tornado drills at school but they have had actual fires and actual tornado warnings. And everyone survived.
Because in a fire or tornado you have a finely tuned system that gives early warning.
We have multiple state-of-the-art tornado warning systems in our town. When any type of storm with rotation to it is spotted by our state’s assigned weather watchers, loud tornado sirens ring out in near proximity to our schools. They even test these sirens every Saturday at noon to make sure they are working properly. In addition to the outside sirens, every cell phone in the building makes a loud beep when there is a tornado warning. At this point, the school sounds their own warning bell and students and teachers secure the area and seek safety well before the danger is actually upon them.
Same thing with a fire. At the very first sign of fire, smoke alarms go off and the whole school is evacuated. Everyone is gone from the building and the fire trucks have arrived before any real danger to the students occurs.
As the days after the shooting go by, I keep asking myself, “What is the early warning system for school shooters?”
Kids that shoot up schools often give off many signs that danger is coming.
Nikolas Cruz gave us plenty of red flags. And the really tragic thing is that people saw those red flags. Some of them even tried to send up red warning flares that danger was coming.
But for some reason, there were a number of breakdowns that kept the red flags from resulting in the danger being contained.
Plenty of folks knew Nikolas Cruz was a dangerous kid. Some folks were even talking about how dangerous he was and were asking for help to protect themselves from him.
But for some reason, even though he presented a clear intent to harm other people, Nikolas was neither put in a psychiatric hospital, nor a jail, nor best yet, a psychiatric ward for the criminally insane.
I have no desire to blame people for what happened.
But what I find myself asking is how we can prevent this from happening again.
How can we educate ourselves and our children about the red flags that indicate someone is a danger?
How can we facilitate communication between the people who see the FIRST signs of danger and the right people to whom we should report the red flags?
Do kids tell a Teacher? A School Counselor? A Principal? The Police?
Whatever the answer, it should be clear. As much as kids train for dialing 911 and making fire safety plans, they should train for the next right step when they see signs of danger in a peer.
And once the first report of danger is made to a responsible party, the rest of the procedures and lines of communication should be clear.
Does the teacher call the parents? The cops? The kid’s mental health counselor?
Is there a good way to facilitate communication between all these people?
My husband works in mental health and sees a lot of teenage boys and young men who are walking through a potentially dangerous time. Some of them have shown some red flags of danger. I would not be surprised if some of our area’s school counselors have my husband on speed dial. For He is one of the people they call when things get worrisome. And likewise, my husband has frequent conversations with parents, principals, and our juvenile court judge.
And you had better believe that my mental health working husband knows how to send a kid that is clearly a danger to themselves or others to a psych hospital. Because failing to make that call and following through on it can be the difference between life and death.
I will not believe there is no answer to preventing school shootings.
In fact, I believe there are lots of answers.
But all of those answers require us to talk to each other with reason (Yes, instead of insulting each other on Facebook) and to work together for the good of our children.
Yes, we have to have hard conversations about how we do or don’t pay attention to people in our communities and how we look after each other.
Yes, we have to have hard conversations about mental health and how we can provide an easier path for people who need help to get it.
Yes, we have to at least TALK SANELY with each other about gun management, regardless of which decision our country ends up making.
But most of all, we have to talk about the warning signs of a potentially dangerous young person (or any aged person for that matter) and what exactly the steps are when we see the red flags waving.
This last option has to be possible.
Deaths by fire are now only half what they were in 1980.
Because kids go to the fire department in kindergarten and learn to stop, drop, and roll.
Because we instituted 911 as a universal emergency number and have wonderfully competent folks who both help the people in danger on the phone and make sure that help arrives quickly.
Because there are enough fire departments and firefighters to keep our towns safe.
Because we made it a priority to look at the problem and make systematic changes to fix it.
Just like with fires, The number of kids who die of school violence can go down.
Wouldn’t it be great if 10 years from now I could write the number of kids who die by violent means is half what it was in 2018? Wouldn’t it be even better if 20 years from now I could write the number of kids who die violent deaths is only a quarter of the number that died in 2018?
We have to talk about the problem in a collaborative way, from all angles, and work together to fix what is broken.
We have to WORK TOGETHER to fix what is broken.
I know people will fight about gun control and mental health issues for years.
But Dear God, can we at least look at the problem and find a way to coordinate who does what when we KNOW something is wrong and about to get way worse?
This has to be possible.