Sunday, February 10, 2013

School Killings: Doing nothing is no longer an option

1/23/13  Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

 “On Jan. 11, in Columbia, S.C., a boy armed with a gun killed one of his schoolmates and severely wounded several others. Presumably firing upon them in retaliation for bullying, he expressed no regret for his deed. It’s a disturbing story…the kind of story that makes us long for simpler times. The year was 1890”*

Since that time, history has continued to repeat itself. CNN reports there have been over 100 school shooting related deaths in the last 20 years. The deadliest was 35 in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

Just six weeks ago, a young man, bearing a mini-arsenal of weapons, added to that number in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. He went from room to room and deliberately killed 20 children and six adults; wounding many others. The actions of one deranged, irresponsible, self-centered individual plunged our nation into deep mourning—again.

The barrage of bullets snuffed out young lives and riddled tiny little bodies with multiple holes. The thought of such needless devastation ripped holes in my heart. I can only imagine what it did to the hearts and minds and souls of the surviving families and community.

One family lost an adorable little girl in the violent slaughter. Later, at a press conference, as parents held photos of their dead children, her mother simply said, “I am Anna’s mom. On Fri. Dec. 14, I put two children on the bus and only one came home. I pray that no mother, father, grandparent or caregiver ever has to go through this grief.”

At that same conference, Dylan’s mother stood with tears running down her cheeks, holding a photo of her son, as her husband, the boy’s father, spoke these very simple and eloquent words: “Ask yourself what is it worth doing to keep your children safe? What is it worth to you? What is it worth doing?” The answer was silence.

Personally, I don’t understand why the safety of children on every level of life isn’t everyone’s priority. Sane or insane the instinct of man and beast is usually to protect the young. Who changed the rules?

Safety is a problem we didn’t have to grapple with when I was in school. Our parents dropped us off at school, watched us walk in the front door and picked us up in the afternoon. We were safe. We were in school. Although there are reports of school shootings as far back as the 1700s, school children were not generally the target of out-of-control, enraged gunmen.

A half century ago, my school had three safety drills. “Drop, Cover and Hold” was the most memorable. We lived in earthquake country and the ground often rolled. The principal would give the command over the intercom and we would drop down under our desks and stay there until given the “all clear.” Fire drills were universal across the nation and always a welcome relief to march outside in the sunshine and wait until danger had passed.

The atomic bomb drills were a little trickier for the teacher to keep us under control. All of the classes lined the school’s interior hallways, away from the possibility of breaking glass and deadly fumes. The effort, of course, would have been futile in a real attack but the threat could not be ignored. We had to be trained to respond.

At home, our parents would constantly remind us not to talk to strangers on the street. All parents of that generation remembered the famous Lindbergh toddler kidnapping in 1932. The boy was eventually found dead of a massive skull fracture. His killer was found, tried and executed but our parents never let us forget what could happen if we weren’t careful.

Still, those were the sweetest days of my life. Looking back, my life was like the scene in the Lion King when they sing, “Hakuna Matata! It means "no worries for the rest of your days.”

Things didn’t change much when my own three children went to school. Life was pretty uneventful. They all took the school bus to their respective schools where the biggest danger was from their rowdy fellow students! Weekends it was not unusual for the boys to ride their bikes (without adult supervision) three miles into town. Kathy and her best friend would dress up, go to the bus stop and ride into the shopping mall (alone) to eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

My grandsons do not have those privileges. Times have changed.  Today, children no longer ride bikes or buses to town alone. It’s a dangerous world out there. We live in a charged atmosphere of anger. Everyone is concerned about safety but the senseless violence continues.

My oldest son is a teacher and doctoral student at UCSD where they receive text messages warning of trouble. He said, “We function more like a city than a small school and we have our own police department. There are giant blue buzzers attached to light poles that can be pushed in case of trouble. An emergency signal is sent into the police and the problem is addressed.” 

Most schools have rules for lockdowns in dangerous conditions. Sandy Hook Elementary School had a new security system that required visitors to be identified and buzzed in. But the gunman allegedly used an “assault weapon” to shoot his way into the building and destroy the innocent. 

I read this report and shuddered. What causes an individual to do this? Is it anger, mental illness, bullying, a desire for power, available weapons, violent movies or games? I don’t know. It's despicable and terrifying.

But this I do know: If it takes a village to raise a child, it will now take a nation to save them. Doing nothing is no longer an option. Open minded, compassionate dialog has to prevail. Only then will wise decisions and progress be made.

Simply put, we must stop the killing and start the healing.

*The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 16, 2013

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

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