|Flags are being flown at half mast to honor the victims of the Newtown Massacre|
I write an exotic travel blog and usually relate the somewhat humorous adventures of my rascal cat, Chuck.
But this week I feel compelled to break with tradition.
We are home for the holidays--safe and warm--snug--our entire family together--all the humans and all the kitties (Chuck and his siblings: Stanley, Jack, Molly and Ella).
And, today, more than ever I appreciate and cherish that fact.
Because this week something terrible happened in this great country of ours. A young man used force to enter Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and then used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot in cold blood the students--the children--in a kindergarten class. Two other students-children--in the school were also shot and later died at the local hospital. His mother was also found shot in their home. Six adults--the principal, teachers and a counselor were also murdered during what most are calling a massacre.
|Images of school|
At this point in the investigation--no one knows why this young man, who has been identified as Adam Lanza, did it. But the reality is that with less than two weeks before Christmas, parents sent their sons and daughters to school that morning, and these children will not be coming home.
I’m a writer now, but I was an elementary school principal for eight years in New Jersey. What happened today would describe my worst fear when I was principal. To lose even one child on your watch is inconceivable. The parents of the children in your building send the people they love most in the world to you and expect that you will be able to protect them. In the eyes of the law, the principal and teachers are “in locus parentis” or the “replacement parents”.
But in the society that we now live, can we really protect them?
Most of the people reporting the news seemed surprised to learn that even in the elementary school, the students practice what is called “lock down drills” on a regular basis. They practice how to react if an intruder with a weapon enters the school and threatens harm. The teachers know to lock their classroom doors, shut out the lights, and do everything they can to keep the children quiet so that if someone is in the school, they will pass by the classroom.
This is the reality of the world we live in.
When I was principal, I can clearly remember the day we instituted “lock down drills” in our school. It required planning and training of the staff. We needed to notify the parents and explain why we were taking such steps. We worked in concert with the police. This action followed the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Another harsh reality is that most elementary schools keep their doors locked. A visitor must buzz the front door, announce themselves and then wait for the front door to be unlocked by the front office staff before they can enter. Then the visitor is expected to report to the front office. Of course, all of these attempts to control who enters the building are dependent on the visitor’s cooperation. There is nothing to stop someone from running down the hallway at break neck speed once they are “buzzed in,” with a concealed weapon.
Or from, as in the case of Adam Lanza, using the weapon they bring with them to break through the glass in the front of the school and force their way into the building.
|Assault style rifle -- plastic toy version , but it still looks menacing|
A visitor can come to the front door of the school and say they are someone in the bulding’s cousin or neighbor--come to pick them up for an appointment. Usually they are “buzzed into the building,” before their name is checked on the student’s card which lists the names of people who are approved to take the child home.
In the winter time, it is all too easy to conceal a gun inside a coat. Most elementary schools do not have metal detectors at the front doors.
Children do not remain inside the building all day long. They go outside for recess during lunch time and often go outside for gym. School grounds are easily accessible, especially the schools that are located in suburban communities. Few have walls or fences separating the grounds from the outside world. Schools were not designed to be prisons.
There is another fact that was always glaringly apparent to me as a principal. Weapons are not permitted on school grounds. So as a principal or staff member you can not come into the building, even with your legally purchased gun. So, literally, the school is a “weapon free zone” until a quote “bad person” breaks that code. Now that bad person is the only one with the weapon. The only recourse you have in the building once you realize that someone with a weapon has entered your building is to go into “lock down mode” and contact the police.
That’s what happened in Connecticut.
Unfortunately, a lot of damage can be done with a semi-automatic rifle before the police arrive. A lot of lives can be taken.
|A handgun - again a toy, but doesn't it look real?|
I cried when I heard about the shootings in Newton, Connecticut. I felt so sorry for the parents of the children whose lives were taken. I felt so sorry for the children who were part of that horrible nightmare. Their lives will never be the same. I cried for the staff who lost their lives. Dedicated people who, no doubt, felt so helpless in the most horrible of situations.
I must admit that I faced the possibility that someone would try to enter my building and do that very same thing for eight years. You try not to think about it, but the possibility is always there. And what would I have done? If I were in my office and suddenly an intruder came in with guns and assault like rifles, intent on shooting the children. And you have no weapon at your disposal. Nothing. You are like a sitting duck. You go into “lock down mode.” You call the police. Do you wait or do you try and stop the person?
Which is worse? To be shot or to survive and then face the parents and tell them that their children have been killed?
So many innocent children. And the adults who tried to protect them.
I know there are no easy answers when we ask--how do we prevent these incidents from occurring in the future?
But I do hope, that we Americans will be willing do something so that all these lives that were taken were not taken in vain.
Let’s start with a serious conversation about . . .
BUYING GUNS ONLINE WITH NO BACKGROUND CHECK REQUIRED
Let’s do it for the children and the adults who were in the school that morning, doing what they were supposed to do.
No one had the right to come in and murder them.
We shouldn’t make it so easy for it to happen again, and we all know it will happen again.
Kate Lutter's debut novel Wild Point Island was just published in June 2012 and is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.
Two young girls--aged 10--are banished from their hometown and their father is taken and imprisoned. Now twenty years later, they return on a rescue mission. Wild Point Island is a tale of romance, mystery, adventure and intrigue.