by Alexis Barton, Editor in Chief
Evelyn Diekhaus. William Kinney. Hallie Scruggs. Mike Hill. Cynthia Peak. Katherine Koonce. If you have been following the news recently these names may look familiar to you, or perhaps they have already left the forefront of your memory and have gone on to join the extensive list of school shooting victims in the United States. On March 27, an armed intruder entered The Covenant School in Nashville, TN and killed three nine-year-old students and three staff members. This tragedy broke to the nation in the wake of the country reaching 130 mass shootings, defined as four or more people being shot and/or killed not including the shooter, in the year thus far (Gun Violence Archive, 2023). Outrage from parents, teachers, and community members broke out across the country as we once again restart the debate between the right to bear arms and the right to live without fear of senseless death.
This incident is particularly poignant to me beyond my own feelings as a student and human being. March 20, 2018 is a day that I will take with me forever. That morning, a seventeen-year-old Alexis walked into school thinking that day would be like any other. Before my first class had even started that day, my friend sitting across from me received a panicked text from her fifteen-year-old sister, “Someone is firing off shots in the hallway.” At the neighboring school in our small town, an armed student arrived that morning and shot his ex-girlfriend, Jaelynn, in the head following a domestic dispute, fatally wounding her and injuring another student, Desmond. In the subsequent confrontation with the school resource officer, the shooter turned the gun on himself and took his own life. That school and my school both went into lockdown as authorities tried to establish whether or not the incident was isolated. My immediate reaction was to begin sending text messages to my friends at that school that I had grown up with in church and dance classes. Among those lifelong friends and acquaintances was Jaelynn Willey, who succumbed to her injuries a few days following the shooting.
Once law enforcement determined that my school was safe, we attempted to resume our normal school day. Teachers tried to comfort students whose friends, siblings, and parents were at the neighboring school while also trying to promote an environment of learning. I walked up the stairs to my second class of the day when I got my first message back. It simply read, “I’m okay”, but it brought an onslaught of tears. I tried to hold myself together enough as I made my way to my class, receiving looks of understanding from other students and a pat on the shoulder from my Spanish teacher. A few hours went by and I had accomplished nothing in any of my classes. I received more and more text messages from friends as they were transported from their school into my school’s auditorium as they waited to interview with ATF and local law enforcement officers. Throughout the day I saw countless parents running into the building so they could see for themselves that their children were okay. As I was escorted out to my bus to leave, I saw a car that a parent had deserted in the ditch outside of our school’s parking lot, doors flung open in an heartbreaking attempt to get to their children as soon as possible.
Now, just over five years later, I can still vividly recall every single thing that happened on that day. I remember the gut-wrenching range of emotions that I experienced on that day. The fear and the terror that I experienced that day are feelings that I would never wish upon my worst enemy. Since that shooting, there have been countless school shootings across the country that have impacted children many years younger than what I was at the time. I know the struggles I have had processing this event that happened when I was seventeen, I can’t even begin to imagine the struggles of a nine-year-old going through that same process.
No child should have to go to school in fear of what might happen that day. No parent should have to memorize every detail of their child’s outfit in case they have to identify their body or their belongings. Regardless of how you feel about gun ownership in the United States, it is clear that a drastic change needs to happen to ensure the safety of future generations. While Congress debates the renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban, I urge every reader to contact their representatives and the senators from their state. Listen to the stories of victims and advocate for the safety of children across America. Lift your voices in honor of the children who no longer have a voice.
When will the lives of young Americans stop being taken before they can even begin to think about what they can offer the world? Gun violence can seem far away until it suddenly is in your own backyard. I wish I had fought harder and sooner. Enough is enough.