One matter that I wish I did not feel the need to write about as often as I do is school shootings. Each successive deadly assault begins to feel less and less shocking, if no less horrifying. In the first six weeks of 2023 alone, there have been 71 mass shootings. By the time this column is in print, that number is likely to rise.
For many parents, their greatest fear today is dropping their kids off at the schoolhouse door.
After a while the mass shootings start to blend in as enduring monuments in our collective psyche. We must guard against complacency and psychic numbing, as we face the risk of mass shootings becoming the “new normal.” What keeps us honest, I believe, are the harrowing and heartbreaking stories that survivors tell us.
By now you may have heard about Trey Louis, the 20-year-old singer who appeared on American Idol on Feb. 26. Immediately following his performance of “Stone” by Whiskey Myers, he disclosed to the audience and the judges that he was a school shooting survivor at Santa Fe High School in Texas on May 18, 2018. He dedicated the song to the memory of his best friend Christopher Jake Stone, who was killed that day.
“A gunman walked into my school,” Louis recalled. “I was in art room one, and he shot up art room two before he made his way to art room one. I lost a lot of friends.” Eight students and two teachers died from gunshot wounds. Ten more were injured.
Singer-songwriter Katy Perry, one of the American Idol judges, blanketed her face with her outstretched hands. Then a sobbing and enraged Perry, the mother of a two-year-old daughter, forcefully asserted: “Our country has failed us. This is not OK. You should be singing here because you love music, not because you had to go through that. You didn’t have to lose friends [and] you know what? I’m scared too.”
I watched the video on a news program hosted by Nicolle Wallace, mother of an eight-year-old son and anchor of MSNBC’s “Deadline White House.” Wallace implored her viewers to listen more carefully to America’s children to better understand the paces they are being put through in school just to survive, to stay alive.
After she replayed the video Wallace, a former White House Communications Director for President George W. Bush, walked viewers through what it must be like for children of different ages and developmental stages to go through active shooter drills. What she offered was simply stated, yet exceedingly profound. It bears repeating:
“There are so many young people out there going about their lives who have survived school shootings,” began Wallace, “I wonder if we need to listen to them more, ask them what it is like to have been raised from the age of three.
“And for anyone who doesn’t have a little kid, active shooter drills change,” she continued, “So when you’re three sometimes they tell the kids to pretend there is a wolf in the hallway. If there is a window on the door, they lower the shade and they play a game like they are hiding from an animal.
“When you’re five, six or seven they change the game and they tell you, you’re hiding from a bad man or bad person.
“By the time you’re 10 or 11 you know about Uvalde; most of you know about Newtown and you know you’re hiding from someone who might come into the school and shoot it up.
“And, then when you’re in HS,” Wallace pointed out, “lots of you fight to keep your phones in the classroom so you can send those text messages that we all cover when an active shooting that takes place in a school happens, with the heartbreaking messages from kids in the classroom watching their friends die.
“That is what being a kid in America is like today.”