My View: School shootings hit way too close to home
December 19, 2013
Too often we see television news about another school shooting. Is this the new normal? Why Colorado… again?
We grieve at a distance for the shooting victims with heartfelt sympathy and relief that our own children are safe and far away. In the past 12 months, all of this became too close to home for our family.
The shooting at Arapahoe High in Centennial last Friday shook our family for the second time. Our granddaughter, Heidi, is a junior there, but her mother had texted me within an hour of the event she had received word from her daughter, our beloved granddaughter, that she was safe. We now pray for the shooter's emotional and physical victims.
The night before, we proud grandparents had attended Arapahoe's annual holiday concert in the school auditorium and we focused on Heidi, first chair cellist in the school orchestra. How normal, so normal, it seemed that night. The next day traumatized us.
Our 11 year old grandson, Max, attending a school 15 minutes from Newtown's Sandy Hook exactly a year ago, huddled under his desk, locked down, in that tragic morning. Heidi and Max will never look at life quite the same again.
School shootings have become a part of school life… a new normal. Heidi's mother teaches elementary school in the part of Jefferson County that feeds into Columbine, the template for disturbed youth to carry out their anger-revenge fantasies. Her school and others across the U.S. constantly drill for dealing with such incidents and like all teachers, she is on the front line with the awesome burden of protecting her students.
There is a pattern nationwide. Shooters were or had been students in the schools. They were young adult males in a period of brain development when many mental health issues kick in. The schools were in upper or middle income white suburban neighborhoods. Over 62 percent of Colorado families with children dwell in suburbs vs. 35 percent nationally, so, "Why Colorado?" It may be a matter of demographics. Perhaps sociologists can make more sense of this.
What works? Law enforcement has learned from each incident, and it paid off in Arapahoe High. Their response limited the carnage. Tactical training for responders, in-school armed police, student drills and teacher leadership worked. If the copycats conclude this method of acting out will not be successful, perhaps the epidemic may fade. We can hope.
Better mental health care is imperative. Economic barriers are being reduced. All health insurance must cover mental health treatment, thanks to the Affordable Care Act requirements. This year, the Colorado legislature approved Gov. John Hickenlooper's proposal that funds hotlines for concerned families and individuals seeking help and resources, provides walk-in clinics at local venues, and a public education campaign. Last week, $100 million in federal assistance was allocated to mental health support programs. Parents are learning from media coverage to spot danger signs and the necessity of early intervention. All of those measures will help. None will keep our children and grandchildren 100 percent safe, but if they reduce deaths from shooter incidents, hooray.
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