On Wednesday morning, I was on a call with a client when a call from the middle school came into my cell phone. It was shortly after the day started, so I rolled my eyes assuming my son was not feeling well and that I'd need to go pick him up.
I finished the call and listened to the voicemail. It was a message from the assistant vice principal: an intruder had gotten into the school that morning.
It happened during arrival, which is the only part of the day when the doors are unlocked. The intruder had followed some students into the building and been confronted by staff. When he refused to leave, the school went into lockdown. The police were called and there was an "altercation" between the man and one of the staff. The police arrived quickly and he was arrested.
After listening to the message, I sat at my desk, feeling like I couldn't breathe. I went on Facebook to our school parent group. Some students had been texting from inside the building as it was happening. The questions (and rumors) were flying. Did the man have a gun? He'd been seen wearing a backpack.
It was later reported that he was unarmed but that didn't change the fact that he could have been armed. He got into the building. The kids didn't know that he was unarmed when they were told to barricade themselves in their classrooms.
At lunch time, my son texted: "Do u know what happened today?" I replied that the school had called and that I was glad everyone was safe.
The school sent out another message later in the day that "the system had worked." All procedures had been followed and the situation was handled quickly. The school would have counselors available for the students.
I felt so incredibly grateful to the school and staff... and so incredibly angry that "a system" needs to exist in the first place. If assault weapons were not accessible, the threat would have been nothing more than some dumb guy who entered the building.
When my son got home, I asked him how he was doing. He said, "It's ok. We practice for this."
I hate that.
My younger son got off the bus an hour later. He was crying. I asked him what was wrong and he said, "Why do bad things have to happen?"
He is in 5th grade, in the elementary school across the street. His teacher had informed him of what had happened, likely because some of the kids with cell phones could be communicating with older siblings.
The next day, the elementary school principal called. My younger son had pulled a girl's hair on the bus (the same day as the intruder incident). She'd talked to him and he immediately owned up to it. He told the principal that the girl had asked him why he was crying on the bus and he'd lashed out. He also admitted that he'd been crying because of the intruder incident.
The little girl's mom was not angry; she was concerned, given the timing. The principal said that a lot of kids are struggling and the school had seen them react in different ways. The principal told me that she was really proud of my son for admitting that he made a poor choice and apologizing to the girl.
As the principal told me what had happened, I cried. We are asking kids to absorb so much. They know – they see the news and hear of the school shootings. And now, it's not something that happened "elsewhere."
The school may do everything right and practice its active shooter drills... and it may still not be enough to keep the kids safe.