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The Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, As Told By A Parent

by Craig Cottrell Feb 21, 2018 12:22 PM

For those of us who were lucky enough to come of age in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, our memories of high school were filled with mostly good times and relative innocence. Even though our parents probably felt they were raising their kids during scary times, in relation to what parents face today, their ignorance was bliss.

On Feb. 14, 2018, everything changed, maybe forever, for the town that my wife and I chose to raise our children. Before now, many people in Florida, and even some in Broward County, didn’t know where Parkland was on a map. Today, Stoneman Douglas High School is front and center on the world’s stage. We chose Parkland because of its excellent schools, open spaces, top sports programs and more. It is a town where while not everybody knows everybody, it’s pretty close. Paramount to our decision was the safety aspect that Parkland provided. But on that terrible day, there was nothing safe about the images that flashed on TV screens across the country.

I was informed of the unfolding events by a neighbor. I wasn’t watching TV and had no idea what was going on a short distance from my home. My doorbell rang multiple times, followed by a persistent banging that annoyed me, assuming it was just a very determined delivery person in search of a signature. I opened the door to find my neighbor, whose daughter attends the same school as mine, hysterically crying. She asked me if I heard what happened. I assume the puzzled look on my face told her that I hadn’t. Unsuccessfully choking back tears she said, “There’s been a shooting at the school, and Hannah is not responding to texts!” There is nothing to prepare you for the moment you hear these words about your daughter.

As I stood in disbelief, trying to process this information, the phone rang. It was my wife, and she calmly asked me if I knew what was happening. I confirmed that I did. Before I could get another word out, she cut me off with the single most important sentence she’s ever said to me: “Hannah is safe.” She, along with her classmates, had found a way to the back of the campus, jumped a fence and kept running. In a way, I was lucky to find out how I did. The time between hearing about the shooting and learning my daughter was safe was no more than 20 seconds.

However, I had other family members in direct proximity to the horror that was still unfolding. I have two nephews who attend the same school, as well as a son who attends the middle school right next door. Because of the proximity of the middle school, and the fact that the shooter was still at large, this nightmare wasn’t over. I immediately sent a text to my son. No response. Thankfully, his school was placed on lock-down when the shooting started the short distance away. I texted my sister and found out her oldest son was home sick for the day, but her other son was barricaded in a classroom.

Thanks only to the quick thinking by my nephew’s teacher; she spared her students from almost certainly being shot. She didn’t evacuate them when the fire alarm went off for the second time that day. Sensing something was wrong, she locked the door and huddled the students into a back corner of the room. Despite the shooter banging on the door, nobody moved. The gunfire outside the door was so powerful the floor was shaking. Later on, while being evacuated by police, these children experienced things firsthand that no person should ever experience, let alone a 14-year-old.

Turning on the TV, I couldn’t believe the images I was seeing. Makeshift triage centers set up on the corner I have driven by hundreds of times with my children. First responders everywhere, doing their best under the circumstances nobody can ever be prepared for. After all, this is Parkland, known as “the safest town in Florida.”

I am not naive enough to think this isn’t a multi-faceted problem with many moving parts. Mental health care in this country is not adequate, clearly. And kids feeling ostracized by their peers at school is also a major issue. But easy access to guns has to be at the forefront of the conversation in order to prevent future school shootings. We need to stop using the term “gun control,” as it’s a dog whistle for people and immediately shuts down conversations where middle ground could be found between various groups. Calling it “common sense gun legislation” is the better term. Because that’s what it is. I do not believe that the federal government wants to take guns away from law-abiding, responsible citizens.

Any rational person can surely see that allowing an 18-year-old to legally purchase a weapon that can inflict so much damage in such a short amount of time is not smart. This law has to change, immediately. I am not a gun guy—never have been—but I fully support people who choose to arm themselves to defend their person or property. This is not about that. This is about access to a weapon that is being used as an instrument to slaughter innocent children. There have to be stiffer background checks. The status quo on this issue is not acceptable.

I am in favor of teachers who choose to carry in order to protect themselves and their students. Having one armed police officer on a campus housing 3,200 students is not adequate protection. There needs to be multiple officers assigned to our schools. Our government has to find the money for more officers. For all of the waste the government is notorious for, protecting our most vital resource, our children, has to take precedent over all else.

This wasn’t an isolated, wayward person operating under the radar. This individual did everything but announce the day and time that he was going to play out his deranged fantasy. Yet, so many, did so little to prevent the carnage. We’re told repeatedly by law enforcement: “If you see something, say something.” This was done multiple times by various sources and nothing actionable was done. The FBI had tips, solid tips, dropped right in their laps and they did absolutely nothing. Their hollow apologies aren’t good enough— certainly not for the families of the 17 victims lost or the untold number of children who will forever be scarred.

This is not going to be swept under the proverbial carpet and forgotten about until the next massacre of innocents. This town is not going to let this go. Parents should be helping their teens pick out prom dresses and tuxedos, not coaching them on the appropriate attire for their classmates’ funerals. There’s too much at stake for politicians to simply offer comforting words and little else.

One deranged individual cannot cause this town to cower and do nothing. Already we’ve seen Parkland’s teens mobilize in ways that other communities haven’t when an unspeakable act has happened at their schools. We’re now part of a club that no town wants to be part of. But, this town is coming together in ways I never thought possible. We’re mad. We’re unified. We’re Parkland, strong.

School logo via Facebook/Stoneman Douglas High School

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The Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, As Told By A ParentThe Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, As Told By A Parent

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