By Sandra Widstrom
Here we are again.
Nineteen years ago, I was teaching at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colorado, when a man came on our campus and shot two students. Afterward, one of their classmates asked me, ‘What if this happens again?’ I told her, ‘I can’t promise it won’t, but I can tell you-you’re safe right now. I thought, ‘How terrible is that?’ I can’t even tell her it won’t happen again.”
Of course, it has kept happening.
Just prior to the 20th anniversary of the Columbine tragedy, a woman flew from Florida to Denver, bought a weapon, and appeared to be intent on hurting students. It seems she had an infatuation with the Columbine murderers.
That led more than 20 districts—mine included—to close on April 17. When I returned to my classroom on April 18, I dispensed with teaching math that morning and talked with my students.
The “what ifs” seemed endless. One child asked if it might happen again. I said I couldn’t promise that it wouldn’t. Another asked if a shooter came in our room, could they attack him. I said, “You do whatever you need to do to stay alive.”
I promised I would not leave them.
One day later, my husband and I held candles among mourners at the Columbine Memorial, where a plaque reads “a place of peace, comfort, and reflection.” We listened to survivors talk about the last 20 years. They encouraged everyone to move forward and make positive impacts on the world.
And then two and a half weeks later, STEM School. STEM is about two miles from my house. On May 7, two teenagers killed one student and injured eight others.
I laid my head on my desk. As soon as my students were on the buses, I went home. I hugged my husband while listening to the news. I then went to check on neighbors who either teach in or attend a school in the county where it happened.
Sadly, I’m not stunned. I am wrestling with next steps. I have come to conclude that we must be about interventions that occur “up stream” well before these tragedies occur. I’m not sure gun laws are up stream, but they seem like a good idea. Yet movement in that direction is slow.
We need to do a better job caring for each other. Expanding mental health services in our schools and in society at large would be an excellent step.
We are also guilty of our own individualism—our own selfishness at the expense of others. On that front, I plead guilty. We need to understand what it is to live in true community, where we shun individualism and embrace selfless caring for each other.
Each year I work with students and families who are impacted by traumatic experiences. I have suggested to one of our pastors at Centennial Covenant Church in Littleton, Colorado, that we sponsor a trauma workshop. We need to understand the causes of trauma, how it affects individuals, families, communities, and what we can do to intervene in helpful ways. It is not easy work.
As Christ followers, we must also recognize these tragedies as a spiritual problem—not just for perpetrators, but in all of us. We are all too quick to judge and blame individuals, families, and neighborhoods. We also want quick solutions that demand little of us. What are we doing as God’s people to come alongside the traumatized, mentally unstable, the marginalized, and needy among us?