I was getting ready to attend a funeral while reading news reports of the school shooting in Texas when I got text from my wife that read, “I’m at the high school. We are on lock down because someone has a gun.”
We live in a rural Oregon town, and my wife works in a fourth grade class at a small charter school. She was on a field trip at the high school when reports of an armed student resulted in the lock down.
In that moment, I didn’t take the time to reflect on the fact that on the other side of the United States there was an active shooter while this was going on, or ponder the chances that it would happen at two places at once. All I could think about were the images of the past several years of children hiding under desks, teachers barricading doors, coaches throwing their bodies over students, and officers in bulletproof armor entering a school.
Even though the news and images start to feel a little surreal, in that moment, the fear of a school shooting was very real and I felt a deep pit in my stomach.
I asked my wife if she was safe. I asked if the children in her class were safe. I asked if she’d heard shots. She wrote, “Yes, we are safe. No, I haven’t heard shots.”
I drove to the high school, but officers blocked the parking lot, so I parked across the street and watched anxious loved ones circling the school in their cars, some parked, others standing and texting. Everyone held the same fearful look, some looking down at their phones, others flexing onto their toes to get a view over all the police vehicles.
Mel sent pictures of officers in what I assumed were bulletproof vests carrying automatic weapons. She told me she wouldn’t leave and had to protect her students. I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few days. Mel and I have been married for almost 14 years, and I’ve seen her do some amazing things. I’ve seen her sit across from a school administrator and argue over our daughter’s ADHD accommodations. I’ve seen her bring three children into the world with determination and grace. I’ve had her look me in the eyes and insist that I change.
But never had I thought she’d be in a position to protect a group of children from an armed gunman, and yet, I had no doubt that if someone tried to harm those students, she would intervene. Because this what teachers do. They care and they sacrifice, and unfortunately we are seeing a lot of situations where teachers are making the ultimate sacrifice.
She said she was okay.
I wrote, “I love you.”
We must have written “I love you” a dozen times in that moment, and each time I wondered if it was our last. I remember reading texts online that were between parents and children during a school shooting. Each one of those texts looked a lot like the ones Mel and I were sending.
I heard people chatting on the streets, some mentioned multiple people with guns, some said there was only one, and some said the gunman wasn’t even in the school.
To be honest, I don’t know the full details of what happened in the school that day. What I do know, however, is that when discussing situations like this, people talk about gun control laws and mental heath, prayers and policies, politics and affiliation — but in this moment, all I wanted to do was charge into that school and stand between my wife and any danger.
The thought of losing her made me feel helpless. It wasn’t until Mel sent a picture of her and her class safely on the bus heading back to the charter school that I was able to breathe.
The day after this incident, I ran into a mother of one of the children in Mel’s class. We were both at the store, and she said, “I’ve never been so scared in my life. But I feel like this is what we have to live with now.” Because this is what it means to be a parent, husband, grandparent, mother, and/or educator in America right now. It means lockdowns and near-misses, schools resembling war zones, and living with the very real fear that the ones you love may leave in the morning to school, and never come back.
And we don’t seem to be doing anything as a nation to fix it. Mel and I both work in education, and we are both saddled with a very real fear that our jobs could turn deadly in moments. I’ve heard people talk a lot about how you are more likely to die in a car accident than a school shooting. And while that might be statistically accurate, we have made incredible advances in automotive technology on the past several years to increase safety.
It’s lack of change that really hits me in the gut as a parent and a teacher. It’s the fact that shootings keep happening and we can’t stop squabbling enough to protect our own children. I think a lot of parents are hit by this same feeling of helplessness.
As a parent, this is the feeling that frightens me the most. I’ve never felt as helpless as I did the day my wife was in a school with an armed student, and I’ve never held her tighter than I did that afternoon when I drove to her work to check on her.