Off the Press

January 8, 2013

By Joe Grove

Each new shooting jars painful memories

Joe Grove
Press proofreader

The imprinted memories come back with every school shooting. I was in my first year of teaching at Westside High School in Jonesboro, Ark. It was March 28, 1998, during my prep period. I heard the principal in the hall.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“There’s been a shooting at the middle school and we’re locking down the school,” he replied.

I helped him finish the task and then stood in front of the glass doors to observe the middle school about 50 yards away. Two boys, 11- and 14-year-olds, had set up a sniper’s nest just off the school playground.

One slipped into the school, set off the fire alarm, and ran to his post. The students and teachers, thinking it was a fire drill, filed out of the building. The boys began picking them off, killing four students, one teacher and wounding 16 others.

Ambulances began arriving and police cars circled the roads around the school, looking for the shooters. Broadcast media picked up on the event from their police scanners and went on the air with sketchy information.

The school was soon flooded with terrified parents rushing to see if their children were alive and to bring them home. They parked their cars anywhere they could find a spot and ran in a panic to the school buildings.

EMTs, nurses and police set up a triage center on the playground to attend to the wounded and the dead. It was a dreadful day for the community, one that lives on and on.

Westside is composed of students from three small communities, and most everyone had a friend, relative, child or sibling in the middle school.

My prep period ended and students who were still there began to drift into my classroom. They turned on the television to keep up as facts became available. When I drove my bus route that afternoon, little Britthney wasn’t on and her bright, smiling face never would be again. She was among the dead.

The memories don’t return just with school shootings. I recently took a lunch to my granddaughter at Beaver Lake Middle School. I entered the school and saw that I was walking unchallenged right into the cafeteria/multipurpose room where students gather for lunch. I realized that a Westside-style shooter could easily do his evil here. My son tells me I could access Challenger Elementary School, where my grandson attends kindergarten, just as easily.

I read where district officials say they are prepared for such an event, but I fear they have only prepared for what comes after the tragedy, not before. I have lived with what can happen, and I am concerned for my grandchildren.

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