April 20, 1999: It was a Tuesday, the end of a normal school day. I packed up the papers I was taking home to grade and locked my classroom. That year, due to a student enrollment that had outgrown our building, I was teaching in a mobile classroom on the front lawn of Woodstock High School. It was a short walk across the street to the parking lot and my car.
I started the engine, turned on the radio, and found myself listening to the middle of a breaking news story. From what I could gather, there had been a mass shooting in a high school in suburban Denver. Multiple students were dead; many others were injured. “But where is the shooting?” I shouted at the radio. “Which school in which town?”
My brother and only sibling worked in the IT department of a large school district in the Denver suburbs. His job usually took him out of the office; he could have been working in any one of a number of schools that day. I needed to hear the name of the city.
My niece was a fire-fighter/paramedic in another suburb of Denver. Was she working at the scene of the shooting? Even if it wasn’t in her district, surely many extra first responders had been called in to help.
It was an endless wait—possibly the longest two minutes of my life—until I heard the words Columbine High School in Littleton. Neither Craig nor Tina worked in Littleton. But my fear didn’t subside until I was able to speak to him on the phone and learn that neither of them had been at Columbine High School.
Before that day, I had never felt unsafe at work. After that day, I never again felt completely secure at school. If a shooter were to come, my students and I might be his easiest and accessible targets out on the lawn. My world had shifted.
Today, January 23, 2018: A person opened fire inside a rural Kentucky high school, killing one and injuring nine others. [Note: while I was writing this post, the numbers rose to two dead and 17 injured.] Police led a suspect away in handcuffs and said there is no reason to suspect anyone else in the nation’s first fatal school shooting of 2018.
Hundreds of students ran for their lives out of Marshall County High School, jumping into cars and running down a highway, some not stopping until they reached a McDonald’s restaurant more than a mile away.
“They was running and crying and screaming,” said Mitchell Garland, who provided shelter to between 50 and 100 students inside his nearby business. “They was just kids running down the highway. They were trying to get out of there.”
A half-dozen ambulances and numerous police cars converged on the school, along with officers in black fatigues carrying assault rifles. Federal authorities responded, and Sen. Mitch McConnell sent staffers. Gov. Matt Bevin rushed from the Capitol to the scene. Parents left their cars on both sides of an adjacent road, desperately trying to find their teenagers.