Texts, Tears and Fears

By Mimi Chapman

Monday afternoon, I began to receive worried texts from my younger son.

We were both locked down, he at a local high school and me in my office, because of an active shooter on campus.

We’ve had scares before and students killed before, but it’s been a long time since there was an active shooter, well before that term was coined. 

This was the real deal.

Sirens, so many sirens, coming from all directions. The alarm horn sounding. Helicopters, more sirens. Long waits between Alert Carolina messages. For hours, the message was the same: Stay where you are. There is still a threat. I sat in my office, lights off, quiet as the grave.

As offices go, mine is great: spacious, windows, a big desk, table and chairs. I’ve decorated it for warmth, with photographs, awards, books and a few knickknacks. But Mondays are slow in my area of the building, with little traffic and few students or fellow faculty stopping by.

As we texted back and forth, I reassured my son. I reminded him that my office is relatively isolated. I promised him he would wake up tomorrow with a mom to bug him about getting to school on time and doing his homework, just like always.

Keep breathing, I told him. The lockdown will be over soon.

My colleague in the chemistry building was not so lucky; nor were his children. He was killed by a student, apparently suffering, angry and alienated, who knew exactly where to find him.

It could be any one of us.

When I finally got home – the traffic was awful – my son came running off the porch, tears in his eyes.

“I didn’t give you a hug this morning. I was so grumpy.”

“It doesn’t matter, honey. We have every day after today for you to hug me in the morning.”

The veil is so thin.

I’d like to believe lightning doesn’t strike twice. But of course, it just strikes differently.

Once in high school I was driving behind my mother, headed home after meeting some place. Out of the blue, a tree came down on her car. No wind, no rain, no warning.

She was fine. The tree landed on the long hood of her 1980’s Chrysler. But, behind her, I panicked.  “That’s my mother.” I remember thinking as I ran to her car. “Nothing’s allowed to happen to her.”

That time it didn’t. But just a few inches more, injury would have been inevitable.

This week, as I’ve done after so many of these events, I am vigilant, updating myself on every protocol, thinking about how I’d handle scenario X, Y, or Z.  On campus, we’re all doing that.

But even as I listen to the conversations, I can hear that we don’t get it.

Our society is awash in guns and despair. This time it’s a student. Next time it’s a white supremacist. After that, someone angry with his girlfriend. At the store. At the movie. The mall. The mailbox.

Until we replace thoughts and prayers with laws and funding, we are not safe.

Mimi Chapman is the Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Associate Dean for Doctoral Education. She is a co-founder of the Coalition for Carolina.

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