School and street shootings left students bracing
Not that of the 10-year-old girl who told how she survived and later realized “everyone I knew was dead”.
It’s all heartbreaking and haunting. They were also created after these children had already failed. The video that loops in my head is the one that shows the moments before, during and after shots were fired in the direction of a group of children. This video was taken the same day as Uvalde was filmed and leaves the viewer eager to reach out and say to those kids, “Run!”
The footage – which was captured by a security camera and posted to social media and, in edited form, by news outlets – shows five young children playing on a sidewalk in a Northern Virginia neighborhood. Across the parking lot, four people in dark clothing can be seen walking. One of the children says, “Who are they?” Another child responds: “A villain! Do you remember?” Someone says, “The gangsters.
A child hides behind a parked car but, a moment later, stands up as the other children watch these figures. (That’s when you’ll want to yell at those kids to run). The children are standing there, holding playthings in their hands waiting to be used, when a silver sedan drives by, backs into a parking space and heads in the direction it just came from. The sound of gunshots comes next. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.
Three children sprint out of frame. A child drops to the ground, releasing a rolling basketball. Another child stays with her.
“Mum! Mum! Mum! Mum!” the girl on the ground can be heard screaming. “I can’t feel my leg anymore. I can’t feel my legs anymore. I can’t feel my legs anymore.
Prince William County Police later said it was a 9-year-old girl and was not the intended target of the bullet that hit her. The sedan was. Police said the girl was airlifted to hospital with life-threatening injuries and remained there in critical condition. Thursday they published a statement, announcing that they had arrested a 15-year-old in connection with the shooting.
When mass casualty events occur, it’s easy for gunfights with singular horrors to go unnoticed. After all, we only have a limited amount of emotional energy to give. But right now, we need to look there and here and everywhere at the way guns are clamoring for our children.
I was a child when a classmate was shot and killed. This trauma lasts.
Street shootings. School shootings. Birthday party shoots. They may differ in detail, but they all follow the same plot: a person who should never have been allowed access to a gun gets one (or an arsenal) easily. Lives are stolen. Sorrow and indignation follow. And lawmakers and the public aren’t doing enough to stop the next one from happening.
What’s so scary about this video from Northern Virginia is that these kids were getting ready. Their words and body language showed that they knew they might not be safe.
Similarly, after a shooting near Nationals Park in July, an 8-year-old heard “Get down” and knew what to do. She later explained to a reporter, “It was my second shoot, so I was kind of prepared, because I always expect something to happen.”
A girl’s reaction to the Nationals Park shooting has the world addressing the problem of gun violence in DC
I told you about her in another column after her words were translated into Spanish, French and other languages by media around the world. That’s how quintessentially American our out-of-control gun problem is – a girl’s comment about expected gunshots is making headlines in other countries. A publication published the article under the title “DC Shootout: 8-year-old Says ‘I Was Kind Of Prepared’ For It, Leaves Twitter Terrified.”
Young people right now are begging us to protect them from gun violence. In the days following the Uvalde shooting, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, students tried to make their voices heard. They gave interviews about their trauma. They shared their fears on social media. They left their schools. On Thursday, in a nationwide protest, about 200 students walked out of McLean High School in Fairfax County. At one point, they chanted together, “Are we next?”
Are we next? We should have a better answer to give them besides the only truthful one: Maybe.
When I was younger and trying to make sense of child deaths, I came across a poem by Bill Knott. It was a long sentence and, to me, succinctly captured the gut-wrenching nature of these losses. He said, “The only answer to a child’s grave is to lie down in front of it and play dead.”
At different points in my life, including after personal losses and writing about young people who died senselessly, these words came back to me. They started again after the shooting in Uvalde, which is not far from my hometown of San Antonio. This time, however, they hit differently. This time, it occurred to me that lying down and playing dead was no different than what we’ve done time and time again after shootings involving children. This time, lying down and playing dead seemed no more helpful than offering thoughts and prayers.
What we need to do is stand up and make sure lawmakers know we’re done with their prioritizing guns over children. What we need to do is invest in the services, programs and people that can prevent would-be shooters from becoming murderers. What we need to do is hold law enforcement officials accountable.
A Peace Corps worker had an appointment in DC with his wife. Then came a stray bullet.
The details that have emerged from the police response to Uvalde show that law enforcement officials have failed these children, teachers and their families in horrific ways. Officers not only held back parents desperate to save their children, they waited outside those classrooms for almost 50 minutes, prioritizing their safety over the lives of the students who were being tortured and you are. They did so even as the children repeatedly called 911 and asked for help. In a call made more than an hour after the gunman entered the school, a child pleaded: “Please send the police now”.
The actions of the police that day were shameful. It’s clear. But if the rest of us don’t do something to make it harder for one person to shoot kids in schools — or on sidewalks — our inaction will be even harder. We know that right now the kids are preparing for the next round of gunfire. We know students ask, “Are we next?” and the answer will be “Yes” for some of them.
When it comes to gun violence, the only answer to a child’s grave is to do whatever it takes to make sure we don’t dig any deeper.