While this is a fictional story, it is inspired by the many interviews from students who have survived school shootings. I lived only miles from Sandy Hook when the school shootings happened in December of 2012. My younger sister was in elementary school at the time. I can’t tell you how many nights I spent awake thankful that my family members were not at that school – or how many nights I thought “which school is next?” As we have witnessed, many more tragic incidents have occurred. When will they end? How many more young people going to school have to be subjected to this kind of violence? The following is a story, while not actually happening, it represents stories of every day kids just going to school – only to meet fear and death. I pray for those who have lived through a school shooting. I pray for their family members. I pray for those who’ve lost their lives, and I pray that we as a country finally pass a comprehensive gun law that will ensure some sort of safety for the innocent bystanders who just want to go to school without fear of what will happen.
Today is National School Walk-Out Day and students from all over this nation are letting our government officials know, enough is enough. I stand in solidarity with these students. The time to end gun violence is now!
I awoke to my alarm clock going off. I had yet to switch it to the radio setting – I kept forgetting. Waking up to a blaring beeping sound wasn’t as appealing as hearing music. I’d rather be sleeping. I rubbed my face with both of my hands and tried to remind myself that I only had two years left of high school. Two years left of waking up at 6:00 AM. Then there would be college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue yet, but I knew I would be picking my major based off what time the classes started. At least, I wished that’s how it worked. Before getting up, I quickly scanned my phone. My friend Sam had sent me a picture of the chemistry homework so I could check my answers against hers.
Chemistry and math were my hardest subjects but I was passing thanks to Sam. She would tutor me in addition to listening to me vent about anything and everything and she shared my obsession with horror movies. She was my best friend. I met her when I was twelve. She had just moved to my town and my previous best friend and I had grown apart. We met each other at the right time and in the right place.
“I checked the time and realized I was down to my last few minutes – it was either put on makeup or eat breakfast.”
I got up and jumped in the shower, multitasking by brushing my teeth at the same time (which my mother found disgusting – but I still find convenient.) I wandered into my sister’s room while I towel-dried my hair. She had already left for a student council meeting. Since she was a senior this year, she was President and took her position very seriously. She had joined the council when she was a freshman, a rarity at our high school.
I happily plucked out a few sweaters from her closet and retreated to my own room to try them on. I settled on a white turtleneck and paired it with black jeans. I checked the time and realized I was down to my last few minutes – it was either put on makeup or eat breakfast. From the bottom of the stairs, I heard my mother shout my name. Groaning, I realized she had already made me eggs. Avoiding them for the sake of foundation and mascara would mean hearing her scold me for the rest of the week. She loved to bathe my sister and I in her never-ending stories about her school days. She wore no makeup, had a uniform and ate her breakfast. It was a different generation, I would remind her. “People are people,” would be her response.
I sat down to eat and my phone buzzed. Sam’s brother was driving her to school and he said they could pick me up! This only happened when he accidentally slept in and missed his morning gym time. Someone else’s misfortune shouldn’t make me happy but getting a ride to school instead of taking the bus was a miracle. My own sister almost never drove me, mainly because she would leave by 6:30 AM. I converted my scrambled eggs and toast into a makeshift sandwich and shouted goodbye to my mom as I ran out the door. She chased after me and before I could give her an exasperated sigh I realized she was holding my backpack. “You saved my life,” I told her. She hugged me and messed up my hair.
On the way to school, Sam’s brother tortured us with his personalized remixes of songs. We were both in the backseat, huddled close together to hear one another over the unique, audible hell. Sam told me she wasn’t sure about the last question on the chemistry homework and asked if I had gotten anything different than hers before we both submitted the assignment. I told her we’d check once we got to school since we were going to be early anyway.
Entering the cafeteria, there were still ten minutes before the first period bell. More and more students were coming in, a lot of them carrying muffins or bagels they had just bought for breakfast. I noticed my sister entering the room and nudged Sam to leave. If she caught me at the end of the day wearing her sweater, there would be nothing she could do about it. If she saw me now, she’d make me wear my jacket the entire day. Sam and I chatted and stopped in the bathroom so I could apply the makeup I didn’t have time to do at home.
We made it to our first period class – and that’s when I got the text. My sister’s friend had told her I was wearing her sweater. Angry texts followed one another by my dear, dear sister. Threats about what would happen if I ever did this again, threats about her stealing my clothes. I rolled my eyes and locked my phone but not before the teacher noticed. She instructed me to put it away immediately or she would confiscate it for the day. I wanted to tell her it was my personal property and I had finished the warm-up activity but an alarm interrupted us instead.
My teacher mumbled something about the frustration of not announcing a fire drill, at least to the teachers. Her lesson plans for the day would now take a hit. The alarm was growing louder but there wasn’t the shuffle of all the students exiting. Confused, my teacher opened the classroom door and stepped into the hallway. She saw a few students using the exit at the other end of the hall. She called out to them, asking if this was a drill. Asking if we needed to evacuate. Asking if this was an accident. My phone began buzzing and I ignored it. My sister needed to pay attention to her class or this drill and forget that I was temporarily wearing her sweater.
“I felt an internal need to panic but I couldn’t act on it. Instead, I felt drained of any energy and my throat was growing dry.”
Sam called out my name. Check your phone, she told me. There was a look in Sam’s face I hadn’t seen before. Her eyes were wider than usual and her skin was growing pale. I asked her if she was feeling sick and she didn’t respond. “Sam?”
“There’s a shooter,” the kid behind me called out. “There’s a student with a gun in the school.”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket. My sister had called me three times and sent me texts in all caps. She was out of the building and looking for me. One of the other seniors had recognized the shooter. He was standing in the hallway in their wing with a gun. “I’m still inside,” I messaged back. “What do I do?”
I felt an internal need to panic, but I couldn’t act on it. Instead, I felt drained of any energy and my throat was growing dry. It wasn’t even 10:00 AM. On a Saturday morning I would still be asleep. In my house. With my family. Our teacher had come back in and shut the door. She didn’t need to say it. The shooter was suspected to be around our side of the building. If everyone tried to exit, we would all be in one place at one time making things much easier for him or her. We were under lock-down. And this was not a drill.
A few boys in my class began barricading the door with desks. Sam was designated to call 911. In the corner, a few girls were crying. One of them had a boyfriend. She cried softly into his shoulder. I could tell by his face he wanted to cry, too. I put my feet up on my chair and wrapped my arms around myself. My sister was outside, safe. The police had to be on their way.
I heard something echo, like the sound of a balloon popping but amplified – it had weight to it. I thought I was imagining it, or was I beginning to hallucinate out of fear. But then we heard it again. And again. And then there was a second of silence. And then I heard the wail. A piercing scream followed by heaving sobs. It wouldn’t stop. There was a dull ache in my ears and my head began to pound. My teacher turned the classroom lights off. We had cabinets in our room to hang our coats in. There were only two and only four of us could fit. Whoever was bigger in body size went in the closet. The smaller students could fit in the cabinet spaces.
I squeezed into the space with Sam and a boy that I had never really spoken to before. He kept apologizing because his thigh was squished against mine. I whispered to him that it was okay, that we should just be quiet. When Sam reached over to hold my hand, I reached over to hold hers too.
My phone buzzed from my back pocket and the sound was exaggerated from vibrating against the wood. A few of the students glanced over at me in terror. I mouthed I was sorry and reached for it. My sister had called me again and texted asking if I was out yet. I told her no. I started a group message between my sister, parents and myself.
“There is a shooter in the school. I love you. I love you. I love you. You were the best family that anyone could have asked for. Please do not be upset if something happens to me. I want you to be happy, always. I will miss you and will always be with you. I’m so sorry.”
I hit send and turned my phone off. I couldn’t risk my phone vibrating again and giving away our location. The wailing had stopped in the distance. I didn’t realize until I heard it start again. This time the sound was much closer. It felt like it was coming from behind me. I heard screaming as well, but of anger. Aggression. There was banging on the walls. Something wet covered my face. I touched my face gingerly, expecting to see blood. Whatever it was, was clear. Tears. I was crying. I turned to look at Sam and saw her eyes were shut tightly, tears pouring out of them endlessly. Around the room, there were people praying. I could no longer hear the whispers under their breath, but I knew from the looks on their faces. The only person sitting apart from us was our teacher. She sat with her back against the door. We begged her to sit among us. She insisted it was her duty to protect us and should someone try to come in, she would defend as many of us as she could to get out the door safely. She cried softly while she spoke and I realized she had taken off her engagement ring. None of us questioned her after that.
The moment from when he entered the room, my eyes saw red. He first shot at the door, until the knob came loose then kicked it open while still shooting. I watched three bullets go into my teacher’s back. One by her neck, one to the right of her heart and the last one by the small of her back. They slipped into her, leaving a trail of red and when she hit the ground the blood began pooling around her. The closet doors flew open and kids were screaming her name. Bullets flew so fast that I could not see them. I felt myself shrink more and more. They were begging him to stop. “Please. Don’t hurt us.” He had no expression on his face. Then, just the way he came in, he left. He stopped and moved onto the next classroom, the next group of students.
“I screamed in her face, but she wouldn’t stir. I howled and felt the officer place his hands on my shoulders. You need to let her go.”
I turned to Sam so we could get up. We could carry our teacher, we could make it out of here. Sam’s eyes were still shut. “Sam, he left”. I shouted. “Sam.” I tugged at her arm and then saw. The bullet had gone into her stomach. She hadn’t even grimaced, hadn’t even shouted. She didn’t want him to know he got her. She did not want him to know that there were others hiding with her.
Before I could pull myself from her, police officers ran into the room. One of them carried my teacher out. The others were speaking in code on their radios. One of them came towards me.
“You need to evacuate,” he told me. Others were running out of the room, rapidly.
“Come on, get up! You need to go. It’s not safe here. It’s not safe here,” I repeated. I grabbed Sam’s face with both of my hands. “Please,” I pleaded with her. “Please, wake up. Come with me. Don’t leave me alone.”
I screamed in her face, but she wouldn’t stir. I howled and felt the officer place his hands on my shoulders.
“You need to let her go. You need to leave. I’m sorry,” he told me. “I’m so sorry.”
Sam’s blood had spread onto my clothes. I wiped my sleeve onto my forehead. I turned out of the classroom and ran. I heard screaming in all directions. There was an exit at the end of the hallway. There were so many bodies I walked over to get there.
On February 14, 2018, the nation witnessed yet another tragic school shooting. We learned that he had commented he was planning a professional school shooting. That he posted photographs with multiple guns. That he had threatened students and the safety of the school. That the police were called to his home numerous times for domestic disturbances. That his online activity and threats had warranted complaints to the FBI. The FBI! Authorities knew, but they did not take it seriously. He was not apprehended. He was not watched. He was not detained. But why? Did he not fit the profile of what a terrorist is “supposed” to be according to the standards of White supremacy?
An eighteen-year-old had the accessibility to a semi-automatic assault rifle – he entered the school. There was no police officer, adult or person who could have stopped him when the government allowed him to get to this position.
The system was put into place to protect human beings – not to distinguish offenses based off the skin color of those who committed them. Had the world awoken to the tragedies that took place before this one, there would be no more. An eighteen-year-old had the accessibility to a semi-automatic assault rifle – he entered Parkland High School without question, a school he was expelled from. Seventeen people died for absolutely no reason, other than the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because they were in school, pursuing their high school education. These were young people who were dreaming dreaming of graduations and higher educations. Of jobs and careers. People who wanted to make this world a different place. People who went to sleep the night before never knowing that this would be their last day on Earth. People who were loved by family and friends and people who are now mourned by millions.
Let us never forget those who have lost their lives just for going to school. And let us remember that know is the time to demand stricter gun laws. The safety of our future demands on it.