I will never forget watching the news coverage of the Columbine school shooting. The fear, the horror, and the heartbreak of all of those involved, and the aftermath for those left behind gripped us as a nation. In the years that have followed, we have watched as school shootings have occurred with more and more frequency, and in schools of all types – an Indian Reservation, college campuses, several more high schools, an elementary school, and even an Amish school have all been scarred by shootings. The phrase “that won’t happen here” doesn’t seem plausible anymore. No school, no matter the size or age of the students, is really immune from the possibility of a violent crime.
As a parent, we want to do everything we can to protect our children from harm. What if your child was at school when a gunman opened fire? Would they know what to do? Would they know how to protect themselves or get away? Would they recognize the sound of gunfire and know to take cover? While we can’t be with our kids 24/7, and we can’t put them in a bubble, there are some things you can teach your child to help them stay safe in the event of a mass shooting.
First, teach kids to report anything – behavior, notes, or conversations – that looks “off” or suspicious. Even if it is something really minimal, they should report it to you as a parent or to a teacher or administrator. Looking back at all of these school shootings, there has generally been some type of disturbing behavior by the gunman in the days and weeks prior to the shooting itself. It doesn’t matter if the warning signs are spotted online or in person, it needs to be reported, and it may just save countless lives.
Kids should also be aware of what “lockdown” means and how that would be put into place in their school. Most likely, the school will have had lock down drills and explain this to the students. If your child’s school hasn’t already set up a lockdown plan in case of shootings or other violent crimes, it’s your job as a parent to press the issue and insure that they take action now. These practice drills could save lives in the future.
Next, teach them what gunfire sounds like. After many school shootings, witnesses and students recall hearing a “pop pop pop” sound that resembled firecrackers. If they are aware of the distinct sound of gunfire, and know that it doesn’t belong in a school setting, they can alert others and begin to take cover or hide before their life is in immediately danger.
In the horrible event that your child should witness a school, shooting, the first thing they should do is hide. This is the first and obvious response to a shooter, but in a moment of confusion, some kids simply freeze and don’t know what to do. Talk about safe places to hide so that it is an instant reaction to the sound of gunfire. As we saw with the Columbine shooting, many student and teachers survived the attacks by barricading themselves behind locked doors, in cabinets, or in closets. Having your child to take cover quickly and quietly, either in a classroom with others, or in a closet, or other small space can save their life.
Running at the sound of gunfire is the next instinctive behavior, and has also saved lives. Teach kids to run in a Z (zig zag) type pattern AWAY from the shooter. This makes them more likely to escape a fatal wound. It’s much harder to hit moving targets! Tell them to run as far as they can from the school, to a nearby safe place. Don’t worry about getting in trouble. Jus go! Whether that be another business, a home, or other place you have set apart beforehand. Once they get to that safe place, teach them to call 911, and then to call you. If the school goes into lock down, escape might not be possible, but it is a viable option in the first few minutes after the shooting starts.
Attack the Shooter
This, obviously, is a last resort, and one that should only be attempted if your child is face-to-face with a gunman and imminent death. We have seen instances where a school shooter has been stopped by a group of students or teachers rushing and taking down the student. This is risky and personally, I have taught my kids to never confront someone that is armed. However, if the gunman is getting ready to fire right into your body, do whatever you can to throw off his aim and defend yourself.
If your child has been through a school shooting, it may take some time for them to work through and move past what has happened. Remind them that it wasn’t their fault, and that the things they are dealing with are normal. Work together with other parents to see that your kids get counseling for PTSD or other trauma counseling to help them process their feelings.
We all wish we could live in a world where school shootings don’t happen, but they do. Teaching our kids a good defense during a school shooting is perhaps the best offense we can offer. What steps have you taken to prepare your child for a school shooting?