If someone had only believed him...
As a television viewer, there is nothing I dread more than the ominous music and baritone voice announcing, "This is a Special News Report." And no, not because it usually interrupts a good Seinfeld rerun or DermalTone infomercial. When a network breaks into its regularly scheduled broadcast, the news is generally not good. Either a plane has crashed, a part of the world has been rocked by a natural disaster or as was the case again this week, a student has terrorized his school at gunpoint.
As the newsbreak unfolded, the scenes were all too familiar, the feeling, a chilling sense of deja Columbine, deja Jonesboro, deja Paducah. The variant was the locale. This time the gun was fired in the bright sunshine of California, not the cool Spring air of Colorado or the cold pre-Christmas atmosphere of Kentucky. But it does not matter where it has taken place, the bottom line is that it has again happened, and it is only a matter of time and geography before another "Special News Report" takes hold of the airways and our emotions and again makes us ask, "What can we do?"
Immediately the experts were out in full force touting metal detectors and zero tolerance and psychological profiling. And unfortunately, those are all necessary evils that will eventually find their way into each and every school. As repugnant as is the idea of a kindergartener wearing a see through backpack walking though an airport-like security portal, that is quickly going to become the norm. And you know what? I'll deal with the visual repugnance if it insures my daughters return safely at the end of the school day. Zero tolerance? Sign me up. If a student is ballsy or stupid enough to carry a weapon into school, get them out. Profiling is all well and good too, but this particular shooting is showing that the typical profile would never have ferreted out this young man.
What would have worked and what will work in the future is pathetically simple. LISTEN and BELIEVE. The student who pulled the trigger in California openly talked about this shooting days before carrying it out. He was not a loner. He did not keep his ideas to himself. He talked to his friends. He used the words "shoot", "kill" and "gun" in conversations as recent as this past weekend. And no one believed him. Or maybe it is more to the point to say that no one wanted to believe him. Who wants to believe that their buddy, a frequent guest in their own home, would carry out such a heinous crime? And in that high school induced state of "Peer Acceptance", who wants to be the one to break the Coolness Code and go to an adult with their fears?
A change in this attitude is what must be taught to our children, from toddler on up to teen. In our own home, our daughters know that words like "kill" or "die" are regarded with the same intolerance as are the obvious four letter swear words. And just as signs are posted in airports warning against joking about bombs or other weapons, this seriousness must be incorporated into how all young people perceive any threats they may hear. Death is not a joke. Period. The consequences are too great. The price too high.
And once we get this message through to them? They need to cross that uncool hurdle of telling an adult. Young children can be taught this through repetition and follow through. We have always taught our daughters that they can tell us anything. No matter what. And they do. We may not always like what we are hearing, but we listen, we talk and they come back again and again. God help me, it is a process I pray we continue as they grow, for the teen years are the ones characterized by secretiveness and a disdain for adult authority. Teenagers need to realize that they are not invincible, that their peers are capable of unspeakable violence, and that they cannot always handle everything alone.
As a parent, my heart goes out to those students and their families whose lives have been forever altered. To the parents who must now plan funerals instead of graduation parties, I cannot begin to imagine the pain, the grief, the absolute loss. Yet it is the friends of this young man who are also in my heart, in my thoughts. They knew. They will forever live with the knowledge that had they just Listened and Believed and Told An Adult, this just might have been prevented.
Talk to your teens. Make them watch the news. And remind them that while keeping quiet may save face with their peers, being brave enough to speak up may make them save the lives of their peers. And what could be cooler than that?