I was a junior in high school when the Columbine shooting occurred. I remember not even knowing anything about it until that evening when I was watching the news with my mother and brother. See, this was April 20, 1999. Pre-mass produced cell phone days. And the phones that were available didn’t have little computer chips inside them. Smart phones were not even an itch in Steve Job’s pants, let alone a reality. I watched the news in horror, realizing that Columbine, Colorado was not that far away in terms of mileage. A five-hour drive, six at the most. For whatever reason, the proximity scared the hell out of me.
I was not your typical kid. I was a full-fledged goth, complete with wine-red dyed hair and thick black eyeliner. The year before, I had shaved my head in a bold act of defiance while being a runaway from my mother’s house. I was not exactly considered “normal”. I had dealt with my fair share of bullying, people talking just to be assholes, girls who hated me for whatever fucking high school reason. I had been bullied most of my life. I simply didn’t give enough of a fuck about other people’s opinions of me to try to fit in. So, I figured if I was going to stand out anyway, I was going to make it worth remembering. Despite all that, I was a good student, a member of the drama club, and captain of my high school’s Mock Trial Team. The year before, we had even made it to the State level competition.
I remember wondering what the hell could have been so bad about the bullying those kids claimed to have endured that it would warrant that kind of slaughter. I am not going to mince words here, folks. The time for pussyfooting around other’s delicate little feelings is over. It has been over for a minimum of 19 years, to be honest. We should have stopped this nonsense then.
I look at these Parkland students, these amazing kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, and I think to myself, we were just as passionate. We were just as aware. Why didn’t my generation take up the fight? Why didn’t we put our foot down then and demand change? Demand anything? I have wracked my brain for the better part of three weeks trying to answer that question. Why didn’t we do something then? My generation was all about saving the environment and fixing the screw ups of the generations before us. We watched, in horror, as OJ Simpson was declared not guilty, we sang along with Sublime’s “April 26, 1992” despite the fact that most of us were 11 at the time of the events and had no clue really what it meant. How did we let this continue?
I think the answer to that is two-fold. First, the weapons used in this insanity were your normal, everyday, “home-protection” weapons. They were not big, scary rifles that had been modified by government sanctioned bump stocks or any of that. In addition, the kids had pipe bombs, homemade explosive devices that anyone who got a C in Chemistry could have made. We probably just patted ourselves on the back and thought to ourselves it would be an isolated incident, that it hadn’t really happened before, and it more than likely wouldn’t happen again.
And that right there is the second reason. We had no idea. We had no clue that this would continue, and it would proceed to get bloodier and scarier and more terrifying. When I was a kid, all of 20 years ago, we didn’t have lockdown drills. We had fire drills. I remember when I was in first grade in Norwalk, California, we had a couple of earthquake drills, but that was about it. I think I remember my cousin from Kansas telling me about the Tornado drills they had to do at their schools, and I remember thinking how wild that sounded. A fire drill signaled a time to walk outside of the school and stand in line and talk with your friends for a little while before being told by your teacher to go back in and take up lessons where you left off. We didn’t have to hide in a closet or face a certain direction at a chain link fence. We didn’t have to practice controlling our breathing to keep ourselves calm. We didn’t have to look around a classroom and wonder what object we could hide behind that would be the most effective at stopping a bullet.
I remember the next year, a kid I knew got suspended for having a map of the school. He had been working on a school project and it required the map. That was about as far as prevention measures went when it came to a possible school shooting. Hell, most of my school was still talking about Kurt Cobain’s death more than they were about this one-time event that we had no idea would become such an epidemic.
That’s it in a nutshell, folks. We had no clue. We had no idea. How could we? The first real mass shooting at an institution of education in our minds was the University of Texas Massacre. But the perpetrator involved in that one was a war veteran and knowing what we did at that point about PTSD and whatnot, it made sense. That doesn’t mean it was justified but considering the lack of mental health care and medication at that time in the 60’s, to say nothing of practical knowledge about the condition, we were able to convince ourselves that this was a rarity. That this was something that had happened 30 years prior and that it would probably never happen again. We were so stupid. I hang my head in shame at our naiveté.
Please see Part 2 of Never Again by Casey Martinez
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