This is a post that I really wish I did not have to write…but I am called to action based on the events of, February 14, 2018, and every day that preceded this horrific event that has impacted my family and so many others.
On September 6, 1949, a 12-year-old boy hid in a closet as his entire family; mother, father, and grandmother were murdered, along with 10 other people by a deranged neighbor with a semi-automatic weapon. He survived what was then the worst mass murder in history, a total of 13 people killed in a shooting spree on a small block in Camden, New Jersey. That boy was my father, and while he physically survived the killings, his mind and spirit were impacted all of his remaining days.
Fast-forward to February 14, 2018, but this time, it’s my niece who has survived another mass-murder, by another deranged killer with a similar semi-automatic gun by hiding in a closet. She, along with her 17 classmates and brave teacher, huddled in a closet inside their journalism classroom until they were freed by the authorities. 17 students and staff are dead, 15 are injured, the community is traumatized and terrorized.
Nothing has changed between September 6, 1949, and February 14, 2018. The profile of the killers looks strikingly similar, their weapon of choice, and access to assault-style ammunition is remarkably easy. Thoughts and prayers aside, they have their place, but this is a public health crisis and we need to take action.
I am a school nurse, a relentless one, trained in Stop the bleed, Mental Health First Aid, CPR, crisis counseling, but today, I am also feeling helpless, outraged and exhausted. We have a broken healthcare system with limited resources to address the mental health challenges that impact our students. Our educational system does not have a safety net to catch those students who are most challenging, most impacted and most at risk of causing harm to themselves and others. The political party that is both bullied and wooed by the golden handcuffs of lobbying groups like the NRA turns a blind eye to the real issues and throws up old, tired and ridiculous arguments that really have nothing to do with guns and everything to do with dollars.
So, on February 14th at 2:25 when my phone rang and I saw I had a missed phone call from my sister this began our text exchange:
Me- “Hey, I am still at school, what’s going on? How are you?”
Her- “Active shooter at (my niece’s name) school
Me- “Oh my God, is she ok? Are they out?
Her- “I’m hysterical, no they are not out
Me- “Did you talk to her; can she text you?”
Her- “She’s hiding in a closet”
My heart sank, and I thought of my dad and asked him to protect her. My niece made it out of the closet, along with her classmates and teacher, but so many others did not. The trauma that they will now endure will last. Unlike my father, my niece will be supported and surrounded by family and friends and her community. She will receive care and counseling, she is resilient, but why does it have to be tested in this horrific and preventable way?
This is my family and niece’s story in her words: