Yesterday a young man lost his life. Many more were injured. Another school shooting. Another day of fear, pain, and loss. Another day for parents all over the Denver Metro area to hold their collective breath.
Yesterday afternoon I was doing the same thing many of you were doing. I was dropping off paperwork. I was running around Denver, just living life. I was planning on stopping at a coffee shop to finish up some work before I met my family for dinner when I got a text. And then another. And another.There was an active shooter situation at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, only a few miles away from my house.
I hopped in my car and drove frantically toward my girls’ elementary school. I called my mom, my husband, and my sister. I scanned radio dials. I was texting and driving. I was crying and driving. I was scared and worried. I knew there had been a shooting, and I knew my girls hadn’t gotten on the bus to go home. But I didn’t know much more than that. I didn’t know if the shooter(s) had been apprehended. I didn’t know where they were. I was told there was nothing I could do, and so I drove home and turned on the TV. What else could I do?
Eventually, I learned that my kids in the Littleton Public School District, had been placed on “secure perimeter.” Meaning no one could enter or leave the school, but the kids could move about the school if necessary.
No hiding under desks.
No refusing access to the bathroom.
But no leaving.
No soccer practice.
I heard from a friend who was volunteering in my daughter’s Kindergarten class at the time that they were telling the littles that they had to stay late due to thunderstorms and lightning. They were making the most of it, having dance parties and trying to remain positive. Her teacher was sweet and caring and amazing, all while mentally processing a terrifying and impossible situation. A situation she never should be in.
Soon after I heard about my Kindergartener, I got a text from my older daughter’s second grade teacher. She told me all was okay in her classroom and they were relaxing and watching Magic School Bus. She is a kind, generous, loving teacher who took the time to text me, to reassure me, even while she was using every tool in her box to keep those second graders from falling to pieces. How many other parents did she have to text? How scared was she? If she was scared, I know my daughter didn’t see it, and for that I am so grateful.
I don’t know how everyone else reacted today. All I know is that my girls’ teachers were calm. They were collected. They were positive, and they made my young daughters feel safe and secure during a time of great uncertainty.
The teachers made all the difference. And I am willing to bet that thousands of other teachers in the Denver area did the same exact thing.
My girls rode the bus home, because it was the safest course of action given the circumstances. They heard things on the bus. They had questions. They were scared and wondering what was going on. And when they stepped off that bus, I did my best not to cry, and for the second time in less than a month I had to explain to them that some people wanted to hurt themselves or others, but that they did the right thing by following the teacher’s instructions.
My kids are 5 and 7. I should be busy warning them about the dangers of crossing the street without looking for cars. Instead I’m warning them about machine guns. And this should be absolutely shocking, but it’s not, because everyone out there reading this is in the same position, in one way or another. My heart aches for those of you who have lost a child, or had a child injured, physically or mentally, because of an incident like the one that happened in Highlands Ranch yesterday. I hold you deep in my heart, and I wish you love and healing.
There is so much work to do. We must demand a change. We must do everything we can to keep our children safe.
But in the meantime, we must thank our teachers. Each and every one of them. The ones who aren’t trained as body guards. As counselors. As police officers. We must thank them for stepping in, and not away, in the face of these horrific events. For nurturing our students, whether age 5 or 15, as they process what it means to live in a time when gun violence seems almost inevitable.
So, to every teacher in Denver and beyond, to everyone who has ever had to deal with the fear and uncertainty of an active shooter situation, thank you. You are the heart and soul of our schools, and you deserve better.