Source: ELA news
It is 2:38 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. I am at work when I receive a text from my son, Noah, a ninth-grader at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“Dad, I think there is a shooter at the school I’m in.” “I think it’s real.”
“How do you know it’s real?” I ask, not knowing whether now is really the time for discerning inquiry with my 15-year-old. Do I just accept this information as true and react? I figure I’ll wait — let’s see what he says.
“I hear gunshots, right outside my classroom.”
How could anyone argue with that? I begin breathing deeply just to maintain some composure. What do I say?
“R u safe?” Wow. That’s really stupid. Of course he’s not safe. He’s in a school with a mentally ill person running through the halls shooting everything and everyone in sight.
“There was gunshots and there r sirens and we hear police in the classrooms.”
“R u safe,” I say again, desperately needing to know if he is safe, or as safe as can be, as events are unfolding.
“I’m in classroom.” “Police are here.”
“Is your teacher there?”
“Yea.” Thank God for that, I think to myself.
“Is there a cop in the room?”
“In the school trynna to find the guy.”
“R u underneath a desk?”
“Yea.” “They’re fighting him now I think.”
How’s this for some fatherly advice: “Stay low to the ground, cover your head with a thick textbook, and if anyone with a gun passes by you, do not breathe or move and make it appear like u r dead already.” “Do not breathe or move.” What? Did I just write that to my son?
My wife, Robin, had a similar exchange with Noah during the shooting spree. Her motherly advice: “Stay under the desk, away from floors and windows and do exactly what your teacher tells you to.”
Then, my son texted me the following:
“I think Alex got shot!”
Alex Schachter has been part of Noah’s close circle of friends for years. They played basketball on the same team for the last two years. They had plans to go on a cruise together with Alex’s father, Max, during Spring Break. We spent Super Bowl Sunday at their home along with many of Alex’s friends.
“His classmate came out crying saying Alex got shot.”
My heart dropped, any energy I may have had left my body, I fell into my chair, and I just began to cry. I had no words of wisdom, no fatherly advice, for this one. I still don’t.
Alex was in the second classroom on the right from the school entrance. Noah was in the first classroom on the left, which the shooter passed by. The classroom doors were only a few feet apart. Why did the shooter pass by one classroom and decide to let loose in another? Was there some plan to all of this? Was it random?
Then an inescapable thought came to my mind — I am texting with Noah as all of this is unfolding, but what if I stop receiving texts from him? At any moment, that was a real possibility. Later I would learn that Noah’s group texts with his friends were met with a response by everyone — except Alex.
My son had a nightmare that the shooter was following him. I suspect the first of many. So many questions are running through my mind. Why did this happen? How could this happen? How could this happen in Parkland, Florida?
Grandma Mickey asked Noah if there was anything she could do for him. His response? “Yeah. Make it Tuesday.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
My daughter, Jocelyn. I think of her now. She is an 11th-grader at Stoneman Douglas. But she is not at school today. She is in Israel doing her second semester abroad. Thank God she was not at school today so she is safe. Wait, did I just say that? How ironic, I think. My daughter is safer in Israel than she would have been had she gone to her high school in the United States.
Thankfully, my son, Gavin, is out of high school and attending college in New York. Safe, I think, unless there should be a school shooting where he is.
Why does anyone think the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an unqualified right? A right that transcends the right of our children to attend school in a safe and secure learning environment? For those without mental illness, it makes sense that people who can act responsibly with a gun should have the right to defend themselves and their family. But do we really believe that anyone, regardless of how they act with a weapon, has this right? It is not a right to inflict pain and suffering on others, and when used in that manner the right must be restricted. I just can’t figure out why our leaders in government don’t see that. Forget about the NRA. That argument is old and tired. You want support, financial and otherwise? Give people a safe learning environment and I’ll give you millions of people throughout our country who will make up the financial support you lose from the NRA.
You send our children into a killing zone every day during the school year, and you allow people with mental illness armed with semi-automatic weapons to freely enter enclosed surroundings (also known as schools), leaving our children defenseless (note to self — for the 2018-2019 school year, make sure to add handguns to the school supply list. Oh yeah, that would be illegal.) How can you live with yourself knowing that this has been going on for over 20 years and no action has been taken to resolve these issues?
None of the responses — improved police response time, grief counselors, paid funeral expenses, improving the protocol to catch the shooter — does anything to solve the core issue. Not one thing has been done to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of another school shooting. That is the real tragedy. This is the problem we sent you to Washington, D.C. to resolve. Not immigration reform. Not whether Russia conspired to alter our 2016 election results. Not anything else.
The problem is not mental illness alone. Clearly, we need to be doing more to screen, evaluate, assist and support those with mental illness. The problem is not guns or gun control alone, either. Can’t you see that the problem is the combination of the two, and as long as we have both in our society, we should expect these tragedies to continue? Why do you think the Second Amendment is imbued with an unequivocal right to bear arms. I think it is a right to bear arms responsibly. And if a person cannot responsibly bear arms, s/he does not have an unfettered right to own or carry a weapon. What are you so afraid of? How difficult would it be to pass legislation that screens for mental illness and precludes those with a history from obtaining or carrying a weapon?
We have precedent for this: In 1982, seven people died when Tylenol packaging was tampered with. Since then, it takes a Ph.D. to open a bottle of pills. In 1995, a bomb using a certain type of fertilizer killed 168 people, so the government imposed severe restrictions on the purchase of that fertilizer. In 2001, a person tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb. Since then, air travelers must remove their shoes for scanning before being allowed to pass through security. Since 1968, 1,516,863 people have reportedly died from guns on American soil. Yet, our government has done nothing in response.
It is Friday, Feb. 16. It is nearly two days since the shooting. My other son, Justin, attends Westglades Middle School, adjacent to Stoneman Douglas. We kept him home from school yesterday, although the middle school was open and classes were held. I received an automated message stating that Justin was absent that day, though the school said it would be an excused absence. Today will not be an excused absence. We kept Justin home yesterday because at age 11, he verbalized the fear he had in going to school. Is he any less fearful today? Do I have a choice but to send him today? Stoneman Douglas remains closed until further notice. How can I justify sending my 11-year-old into a school building today? Tomorrow? Or the next day?
My wife shared this with a cousin concerned about how we are doing: “I dropped Justin at school today, watched him walk into school and then had to pull over to vomit. That’s the intensity of my fear of not knowing if I will ever see him again. Within 30 seconds I had an EMT beside me with water, a Red Cross volunteer holding my hair with a cool towel on my neck and a crisis counselor standing in front of me to “get it all out.” Luckily, Justin saw nothing. Now I showered and getting ready for Meadows funeral today at 12:30 pm. I really can’t think beyond that. Thanks for reaching out.”
Our new reality, I suppose.
We are working through this day by day. The next basketball game. Spring Break. Camp Horseshoe. None of these things will be the same. And every day for the rest of our lives will be different because Alex is not here.
On Sunday, we attended Alex’s funeral. To Caryn, Max, Ryan, Morgan and Avery, we love you guys and our hearts are broken thinking about your pain and your loss. My hope is that the opportunity Alex lost to make a difference in this world will not be for naught.
Legislators, are you listening? Take this tragedy and use it to pass legislation that addresses the combined problems of mental illness and possession of weapons. Honor Alex Schachter, the other 16 people that lost their lives, those who were injured in the shooting, the entire student body and teachers at Stoneman Douglas, and all those in school shootings that have occurred previously.
I am an attorney. I am supposed to understand the legal system, how laws are passed and how change can be effectuated. Yet, I feel powerless. I am not in Congress. I am not the president. Are any of you listening? Maybe gun control laws won’t prevent mass shootings, but shouldn’t we try to make it more difficult for people who use weapons for mass shootings from purchasing them?
Do you really need more facts before you act responsibly toward every parent and student in this country? We don’t want to hear that free grief counselors will be made available. We don’t want to hear the problem is mental illness, or the problem is the Second Amendment, or the NRA, or anything else for that matter. We have solved many other issues in our country. The time has come to solve this problem. Now.
I want to end with an apology. My apology goes to everyone affected by other school shootings in our country’s history. My heart went out to them during those times, but it wasn’t until it hit me in my own home, my own backyard and my own children were affected, that I took the time to write this plea to our lawmakers seeking to effectuate change. I hope you can forgive me for that.
By Howard S. Krooks (an elder law and special needs planning attorney in Boca Raton)