At 7:26 AM this morning, I dropped my son at the bus stop. I waited with him for the bus then spent time chatting with a couple of other mothers after the bus departed for school.
Freeman High School in Rockford, Washington is just 13.6 miles southeast of my school, Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane. Every October, Rockford holds a county fair and hosts a children’s Halloween parade. Years ago we took my step-daughter and step-son to participate. It was cute.
My dad is visiting from New Mexico, so I took half a personal day to spend time with him. At 8:00 AM we headed downtown to eat breakfast at the Satellite. We both had scrambles and reminisced about my childhood.
It was a late start day today for Rockford schools. A week earlier, a young man wrote notes to a few friends that he planned to do “something stupid.”
After breakfast, at 9:30 AM, I recorded an interview with KIRO radio in Seattle via Skype. I spoke with Colleen and Dave about our public schools, and DACA, how there is beauty in all families, about seeing difference instead of deficit, and how we must be kind, committed, and caring first for our students. The interview ended at 10:00.
At around the same time, a 15 year old boy opened fire in the second floor hallway of Freeman High School. His school. He shot and killed his “friend,” Sam Strahan, and wounded three others. He carried the guns he used in a duffle bag on the school bus.
At 10:50 AM, I went to my son’s school to drop off a permission slip for him to run cross country. I was locked out. It was my son’s second week of Kindergarten and his school was on lockdown. At the time, I didn’t know why.
Spokane County Sheriff, Ozzie Knezovich, stated, “It sounds like a case of a bullying type situation.” A friend of the suspect said of the alleged shooter, whom he considered a “friend” that “He never really seemed like that person who had issues…was always nice and funny and weird.”
For Spokane Public Schools the lockdown ended at 11:25 AM. My son got to leave his classroom and head to lunch. I dropped off his papers, but, still reeling from the experience, the office staff wasn’t keen on me checking in with my son. I understood. They don’t know me yet and tensions were still high.
One dead and three injured. Rockford is a small community, with only 300 students in the high school. One resident said, “Not knowing who is affected is hard. It doesn’t matter who it is because it’s going to be someone we know.” She was referring to the victims, but the same can be said of the alleged shooter.
I called the Newcomer Center and talked with Luisa. I needed to check on our students before heading to a meeting for the rest of the afternoon. I was worried about them. Were the kids “ok?” I wanted to be there with them. To help them to not fear in the face of something so difficult to understand.
The community of Rockford hopes “everyone stays as positive as we can…and surrounds itself with a lot of love because we’re going to need it.” The healing and recovery will take a long time.
I arrived at my meeting at noon. Everyone there watched the news as the story unfolded. I thought about connections for the entire four hours I was there. When I finally got home, I hugged my little boy tightly and told him how much I love him.
Freeman High School marks the 19th school shooting since January, 2016. It is the 314th mass shooting in 2017 alone. Tomorrow we’ll focus on gun control and arming school resource officers, even though an unarmed school custodian stopped the shooter. There will be no mention of developing connections, reaching out, or really seeing one another.
We teach kids to call everyone a “friend.” We encourage them to report bullies and to not be bullies themselves, but we stop short of teaching kindness and giving them the language they need and the courage it takes to talk about their feelings honestly and openly without fear.
Supposedly there were warning signs. The alleged shooter was obsessed with school shooting documentaries, had acted out violent scenes with BB guns on YouTube, and wrote the notes about doing “something stupid.” We were obviously looking at him, but were we really seeing him?
It’s hard to navigate a world in which most of our connections are made online. We forget that relationships take practice. So many of us end up feeling isolated and alone and when “bullying type situations” occur, we don’t know how to address them.
Tomorrow, I’ll go back to my classroom. My students will be there, ready to learn, but a little bit of the hope will have left their eyes. It’s my job to empower them to be fearless, to show them the world is a beautiful place, and that they and their classmates are worthy of love. I’ll teach my content, but more importantly, I’ll teach them how to be human, how to be kind, and how to make connections with one another.
As we go out into the world tomorrow, into our communities and into our schools, I encourage everyone to make a new connection. Take out your earbuds, put away your phones, try not to look at your feet as you walk. Lift your head and look around. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Show all the people you meet that you are interested in them. See them. Show love. Be fearless.