While one can never truly grasp the gut-wrenching horror of a mass shooting, a text message conversation between a teen trapped in Stoneman-Douglas High School and his father as last week’s horrifying shooting unfolded offers a rare and disturbing glimpse into an experience nobody should ever have to face.
In a harrowing op-ed piece for the Florida Sun-Sentinel, Howard S. Krooks, father to ninth-grader Noah, recounted the Parkland shooting from his end, describing what it was like to be sitting at his desk at work and then receiving the message that every parent dreads with all their heart:
“Dad, I think there is a shooter at the school I’m in.” “I think it’s real.”
“How do you know it’s real?” I ask, not knowing whether now is really the time for discerning inquiry with my 15-year-old. Do I just accept this information as true and react? I figure I’ll wait — let’s see what he says.
“I hear gunshots, right outside my classroom.”
How could anyone argue with that? I begin breathing deeply just to maintain some composure. What do I say?
“R u safe?” Wow. That’s really stupid. Of course he’s not safe. He’s in a school with a mentally ill person running through the halls shooting everything and everyone in sight.
“There was gunshots and there r sirens and we hear police in the classrooms.”
“R u safe,” I say again, desperately needing to know if he is safe, or as safe as can be, as events are unfolding.
“I’m in classroom.” “Police are here.”
“Is your teacher there?”
“Yea.” Thank God for that, I think to myself.
“Is there a cop in the room?”
“In the school trynna to find the guy.”
“R u underneath a desk?”
“Yea.” “They’re fighting him now I think.”
What is a parent supposed to say and do in this situation? What kind of world do we live in where Americans are put in a position where they have to give their school children tactical strategic advice for surviving a mass shooting?
How’s this for some fatherly advice: “Stay low to the ground, cover your head with a thick textbook, and if anyone with a gun passes by you, do not breathe or move and make it appear like u r dead already.” “Do not breathe or move.” What? Did I just write that to my son?
My wife, Robin, had a similar exchange with Noah during the shooting spree. Her motherly advice: “Stay under the desk, away from floors and windows and do exactly what your teacher tells you to.”
What has our nation come to when parents are thanking their lucky stars that their kids were not at school because it was safer than being there?
My daughter, Jocelyn. I think of her now. She is an 11th-grader at Stoneman Douglas. But she is not at school today. She is in Israel doing her second semester abroad. Thank God she was not at school today so she is safe. Wait, did I just say that? How ironic, I think. My daughter is safer in Israel than she would have been had she gone to her high school in the United States.
It goes without saying that this is an unacceptable state of affairs. We must look to the kids of Stoneman-Douglas high school for inspiration, to ride the momentum of their horror and fury to finally doing something to stop the incessant slaughter that takes tens of thousands of American lives every year.
Since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, last week that killed 17 high schoolers, a stunning six more planned massacres have been thwarted, all over the nation. We need substantial and decisive gun reform – and we need it now. Enough is enough.