In the Aftermath of the Santa Fe Shootings

Here we are again. It seems like a monthly occurrence now that we have several days of horror following the murder of school children, and the inevitable debate rages over what should be done. And in the end, we settle on nothing. Nothing is done. We are used to it. It is the new normal.

After the Parkland massacre I wrote in frustration about six or seven things that we needed to do to curb this senseless violence and stop our school children, and many others for that matter, from dying. I didn’t expect that any of the things I and many others were suggesting would actually happen. It felt better to say it though.

The news of the Santa Fe High School massacre, and some of the details that have been shared in its aftermath, have created a couple of new thoughts and ideas. We have decried the lack of action on the part of our elected officials and we should continue to do that until we have action. But we also need to hold ourselves accountable for action as well.

Since Parkland there has been a great deal of discussion regarding red flags. In both situations it is frustrating to read about things that people knew or were aware of that seem like perfectly logical, and in some cases, obvious warning signs that an individual needs a serious check in by someone starting with parents and including friends, acquaintances, neighbors, school personnel, mental health workers and/or law enforcement.

In our efforts to combat terrorism, we have a public campaign that tells us to “See Something – Say Something”. We need to broaden our understanding and implementation of this effort to include everyday situations. I think we have limited our understanding of this campaign and strategy to a commonly held definition of international and domestic terrorism. If a person entering a school with several deadly weapons intent on killing as many people as he can is not an example of terrorism than what is?  School shooters have certainly inflicted terror.

In the Santa Fe case a few students who were interviewed after the shootings mentioned that this young man acted a bit strangely. He often kept to himself and when someone did try to engage him in conversation he would simply laugh and not respond. He apparently was not the same in middle school where he was an honors student. He was also at one point a member of the football team and interacted positively with his teammates. School professionals and fellow students need to pay attention to drastic changes in behavior and attitude. These are warning signs that something is occurring in that student’s life that requires the attention of someone. Interventions need to be employed that will identify the issue and strategies need to be implemented that will intervene and help. A check with the parents needs to take place to ensure that they are aware and keep an eye on the situation.

Witnesses also mentioned that prior to the shootings he had posted some disturbing and questionable content on the internet including the mention of becoming a killer and a picture of his favorite black trench coat replete with a Nazi symbol as well as other disturbing iconology. Anyone who saw these things should have reported them immediately to the police and school officials. We can no longer convince ourselves that this is just a teenager expressing himself. This is the new normal.

And the trench coat. Did we learn nothing from Columbine?  How is wearing a long, black trench coat when it is warm out not a red flag. And how is it not seen as a safety issue. When I became the principal of the high school where I finished my career, the school was like the wild, wild west. One of the first things that we did to begin to bring some order and to ensure the safety of all was to ban the wearing of outer gear and hooded sweatshirts during school hours. These items had to be left in lockers or they were confiscated and returned at the end of the day. This is just common sense. Students would complain that they were cold in classrooms. They were told to wear a sweater or crew neck sweatshirt. In this day and age how in the world was this student, or any other student, allowed to wear a trench coat in school. Simply said, any school that allows students to wear outer gear that is bulky and could possibly conceal undesirable items is not creating a safe environment for its students.

The morning of the shootings neighbors heard a loud explosion. Loud explosions should have an explanation. Did an area transformer blow out resulting in a loss of electricity? Is there some other obvious reason? If not, why not call the police. If the police had been called, they possibly could have located the real reason and shut down this young man before others were hurt.

Parents, in many cases, have abdicated their responsibility to keep their children safe. For a moment let us take the gun control issue in a different direction. Let us not argue the point of who should be allowed to own guns. If you are a parent, and you own guns of any kind, no one else should have access to those guns under any circumstances. If you are not able to effectively secure the weapons in such a manner that others cannot access them, you should not have them. In some states, if you fail to adequately secure firearms, and a minor child gets at them and hurts someone, you are liable. That should be the case in every state.

The other potential weapon that parents must secure is the internet. Access to the internet is both the greatest advancement and the greatest scourge in our society in the last quarter century. The internet has the potential to do great good and to do devastating harm. While children are still living in the homes of their parents, parents must do everything in their power to ensure that their children are only reaping the benefits of the internet and not causing harm or being subjected to harm via the internet. In the vast majority of cases, parents have control of the internet economically. Parents pay for the internet connection and any devices that children use. Parents must demand and have access to all of their children’s accounts and communication and check regularly and randomly to ensure that they are not involved in anything, or with anyone, that will endanger them. That includes making every effort to stay abreast of the latest technology that would allow your children to have ghost accounts or use creative apps designed to mask detection.  I am not suggesting an all-out invasion of privacy, or that parents read every communication, but a review will probably surface any major issues. A good rule of thumb is, if your kid won’t friend you, your kid does not have an account.

We all need to pay closer attention to what is around us and especially the people that we have interaction with every day. We can no longer stand by and watch strange behavior, questionable actions and words, or major changes in attitudes and behaviors and say that it is none of our business. It is our business. It has to be our business. If not, we have not done what we can do to help protect our families and our communities.



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