It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: hearing that there has been a shooting at their child’s school. The rising number of school shootings has made both parents and children more anxious about what to expect when they part ways for the day.
For 12-year-old Ajani Dartiguenave, the prospect of encountering a school shooter is more real than ever. During a lockdown that lasted an hour at his elementary school in early November, Ajani wrote a goodbye letter to his family, terrified that he was going to lose his life.
Thankfully, the lockdown ended without incident.
Ajani brought the letter home to his mother, Claudia Charles. Charles was startled to realize how worried her son has been with the rash of school shootings.
“When there was a shooting at another school that was about 45 minutes away, it wasn’t until this incident happened that it really got — it was close enough to home that I realized he was actually affected by what was going on at a neighboring school and that he had concerns,” Charles said.
She said the letter saddened and shocked her.
The lockdown was implemented at Ajani’s Charlotte, North Carolina, school after an anonymous threat was sent in. For Ajani and others, the 60 minutes felt like they went on forever.
His letter expressed his fear.
“Right now I am scared to death,” he wrote. “I need a warm soft hug. Mom, I hope you’re going to be OK with me gone. Goodbye.”
Ajani was sure that he and his friends would lose their lives that day. Thankfully, all turned out well, but Charles has now gotten her son a cellphone, so they can be in immediate contact in an emergency.
It’s not surprising that children and parents alike are becoming more anxious.
It’s now common school policy to have lockdowns to protect students and staff from an active shooter. For children like Ajani, this is the reality of their lives at school. It’s no wonder that tensions are high.
In a thread on Quora, a user named Emilie Morgan responded to the question: “What was the scariest school lockdown you’ve ever been in?” She described a time when a lockdown turned out to be the result of a cruel prank from a middle schooler.
“My teacher had us all hiding in the corner, out of view of the windows,” Morgan wrote. “It was obvious this wasn’t just a drill. Most of us were crying, we were terrified. The school was very quiet, it was very eerie. About fifteen minutes after we were put under a lockdown, we heard multiple helicopters flying over the school … the road outside of the school was closed because parents were lining up around the gate surrounding the school crying for their children.”
2018’s attacks include a Valentine’s Day massacre at Parkland High School in Florida, one of the worst mass shootings in modern American history.
The shooter, 17-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His attack on the school resulted in the deaths of 17 students and faculty members.
For students that day, the lockdown would have much, much scarier results. Fire alarms were blaring, and they heard the spray of semiautomatic gunfire.
Many of them tried to text their parents and siblings. Others took to social media to try to find out what was happening or to call for help. At last, police evacuated the school, herding students out to the parking lot toward their parents. The shooter, meanwhile, slipped in among them.
Some of the students said they were suspicious of everyone around them.
They weren’t sure who among them was the shooter or if he or she would attack again. The Parkland School Massacre was the worst school shooting since the attack at Sandy Hook in December 2012.
2018 has been a major year for mass shootings, both in schools and elsewhere. Many of those shootings have resulted in injuries or fatalities. Law enforcement officials and lawmakers are scrambling for a solution to the rash of violence in schools and other public places around the country.
For students like Ajani, going to school has become a scary thing.
Lockdowns now go hand-in-hand with fire drills, and students from elementary up through high school have learned that they need to be prepared to run for their lives. They might even need to be ready to write a letter saying goodbye to their family.
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