Another School Shooting

May 25, 2022 by Amber McClain Shaw, in Blog Posts
These memories normally live in a far back corner of my brain, tucked away so far that I often forget, for long periods of time, that they are there. When they come back, triggered by news of another school shooting, it is like a slap. A sudden remembering that causes an involuntary deep breath, and often, tears that well, unbidden.

In high school, in the early 1980s, a boy I didn’t know very well looked at me through his long fringe of bangs and asked me to come to see something in his locker. He stared at me, eyes mostly hidden. We were not friends. I went, I don’t know why. His locker was near mine.

Inside he had a gun.

I knew what to do. A shy 15-year-old, I went to the Principal’s office, where I had never been. I walked right past the secretary and into his office. I gave to an adult the terrible responsibility of this knowledge.

There was no school lockdown. It was handled, I don’t know how. I don’t remember what the gun looked like, or the boy’s name. I never saw the boy again. I never talked about it. I have no idea if any of my classmates ever knew what happened.

It wasn’t until Columbine that this memory surfaced. By that time I had two children. I had never realized what could have happened, with that gun, at my school, until Columbine. It sounds naive, but it never occurred to me that someone would bring a gun to school and actually use it to murder fellow students. That is when the gun-in-the-locker incident became a more significant event in my life.

It’s not the only time this has happened to me. In the early 1990s, a co-worker, someone I didn’t like very much, told me that he had purchased a gun and had a plan all worked out to kill our boss. Another co-worker also heard this. She was scared and didn’t want to get involved. Our boss was a demanding, frightening, and intimidating person. He berated and humiliated people in meetings when they did not meet his standards. He was tough to work for, but he didn’t exactly deserve to get shot by an employee. It was hard, so very hard, to drag my co-worker with me into his office, and tell him one of his employees had a plan to kill him. But I had, unbelievably, been in this situation before, and I could not have lived with myself if something happened, and I had failed to warn him.

These two instances both could have resulted in terrible tragedies. But they didn’t. Why? There are several reasons, I think. Perhaps one reason, the one I want you to hear, is that social media did not exist. People talked to each other, in person. Not at each other, on impersonal screens. The person in crisis told someone, a person. Me. They told me. And I had the opportunity to do something before the situation escalated. They didn’t tell me by posting on Facebook or live streaming. Social media has separated us from each other in the most dangerous of ways. It’s made us lonely, jealous, shallow and uninformed. It makes us feel like we are connecting and sharing, when really, it’s not enough. Social media is a good place to share recipes and graduation photos. But it is not a way to connect to other humans, or get news, or share personal tragedy, get help, give a hug, or many of the other things we humans need each other for. 

There are plenty of things you can do if all of these senseless murders of children and teachers in schools and elders in churches and grocery stores bother you. Be an educated voter. Let your outrage be known to people who represent you in our government. Take an action that has a consequence. Do you know what does absolutely nothing? Sending hopes and prayers on Facebook. It’s worse than nothing. It’s an insult. Scream into the void if it makes you feel better, but that is all it does. Put your phone down, get up from your computer, and go talk to a human. It doesn’t have to be someone you know. It can be a stranger. Have a conversation, however short. Listen, really listen to them. Learn something. Make someone else feel a little less alone. These are tough times for all of us.
The author at 15 on a family walk.