By Lillian Monaghan, Contributing Writer
On Feb. 14, 2018, I can remember exactly where I was when we got news of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I wasn’t scared at first. There were often reports of shootings and lockdowns at a school near my house, Coral Springs High School, and they had always turned out to be fake or misinformation. Nonetheless, I texted my friends, who were a sophomore and a freshman at the time, to make sure they were alright. They responded in minutes and they were eventually led out by SWAT. This was not the experience every student had that day. My life, and many others’, changed drastically because of the events on that day.
When everyone asks me why I walk so fast through the hallways, I say, “I have a naturally quick pace.” That is not the most honest answer. I travel at practically a run from classroom to classroom because I am scared about being caught out of class in a code red. I am constantly scanning the school for new places to take shelter, in case we get put on a lockdown. There has been a strict policy regarding roaming students enforced since Feb. 14: once a code red is called, all doors are to remain closed regardless of students stuck outside the classrooms. I am terrified that a lockdown will be called, and I will have nowhere to hide because all of the classrooms will be locked. This constant need to find a hiding place is not something I do only in school; it transcends to everywhere I go. I subconsciously scrutinize every room or store I enter to find the best hiding places within minutes of entering. Some may say this is good planning or awareness on my part, but I say it shouldn’t be necessary. I shouldn’t have to fear everywhere I go that a gunman will attempt to end my life. I shouldn’t be scared to walk in my own school, the place where I spend more time at than in my own home.
Additionally, after Feb. 14, a new rule at school was enforced that we must always wear our ID badges. It was strange for high schoolers to go from never needing their IDs to it being a requirement within a day. For younger students it didn’t matter much, as they haven’t known anything different; although, it was difficult explaining to five-year-olds that they now must wear a big “necklace” with their picture on it. They are like dog tags from the military. Soldiers in war must wear identification tags that have their name, service/social security number, blood type and religion. Chinese soldiers even have links written on theirs that, when searched up, provide more information about the soldier. These dog tags are used to identify those who are wounded or dead. It helps to ensure that the families receive the bodies of their loved ones after the war. Our school IDs have our name, student number, and photo on them, and every student is required to be wearing it while on campus. The photo helps to identify us, and the student number can be used to search up more information about each student. But the school board never told us why it is required we wear our IDs. Many believe it’s to make sure that only those who belong at our school are there. Students often laugh at this; they say that IDs can be replicated, and security guards don’t check enough to catch someone who doesn’t belong. But I have my own theory; we don’t have to wear IDs to identify the living, we have to wear them to identify the dead, much like dog tags in the military. During the aftermath of the shooting, parents could not find their children. They were calling their phones and friends and yet no one could tell them where their child was because no one knew the names of those who were dead or injured in the building. It would be inhumane to have students look at their friends’ corpses in order to provide some answers to the distraught families of missing children. So instead, I speculate that we wear our school IDs so if this were to ever happen again, families of the slaughtered would know within minutes instead of hours. This ID that I wear around my neck every day serves as a reminder of those who were lost and a reminder that I could be next.
The frequent code red drills don’t help. We have one once a month, and yet I still become overly anxious each time. When we were younger, and only had one once a year, we joked about them. We didn’t believe anything would really happen, so we discussed the lockdown plan, but never actually did it. Now we know and act differently. We take each drill as if it were the real thing: barricade our doors, hold sharp items to throw at a possible attacker, and lie flat on the ground as to not be seen from the windows. This process in itself evokes many negative emotions, and it is only the practice for a potential threat. Last year we had a real code red. An armed person was in the vicinity of our school, so we were placed on lockdown. After all of our training and drills I thought I would be alright, but I was wrong. I was not alright. I silently cried into the arms of my best friend as we sat on the floor under the desk. We received minimal updates throughout this hour-long ordeal, which only caused the rumors to become more extravagant. Some said an armed man was spotted climbing the school fence and others said he was in the band hallway. In the end, the suspect never even entered our campus and was captured by the cops a few miles from our school. Over the course of the year, we had trained so many times for this, and yet I was still terrified. I have spoken to others in my school about this and they all have similar feelings. However, I have also had the opportunity to speak with friends who are much younger than me about this topic and their feelings and experiences are more neutral and sedated in a way. One nine-year-old girl, Reagan, told me about a code red that happened at her school. She calmly described to me how she and all of her friends crammed into closets and cabinets in her classroom. She said that they all stayed silent for a few hours while they waited to hear about the threat. I asked if she was okay and she told me that she was fine but some of her friends were crying and that students in her class would accidentally hit their leg or hand in the cabinet and scream because they thought they were gunshots. This high-strung, energetic nine-year-old told me this story in the most relaxed manner I have heard from her. All the while, I was remembering my own discomfort I face during our code red drills, let alone the true fear I felt during our own code red. Reagan concluded her story by telling me that everyone was okay and the lockdown was because someone’s car broke down and they were looking for help near the school. Her lack of nervousness and anxiety during this could be caused by the school’s ability to prepare its students for dangerous scenarios like this. Or it could be because school shootings have become so common and schools are required to have so many code red drills that she has become habituated to the process. Although she may have been in danger, she has always been taught to expect the possibility of a lockdown occurring. Though it was beneficial for Reagan to stay calm throughout the incident, the stark contrast between her emotions and mine in similar scenarios demonstrates how code red drills and other lockdowns have become like second nature within our schools.
I am still haunted by the fear I have about almost losing my friends on Feb. 14, 2018. As I enter adulthood, that day and all the events succeeding it have shaped who I am becoming. I get nervous in big crowds and unfamiliar situations, but I am more aware, more grateful for life, and more involved in helping the lives of those around me. Even though I have these feelings and have learned things from this event, those who have not experienced it will refuse to understand. The nation was mourning the day, the week, and the month of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Yet two years later, the only ones who still remember this horrific event like it was yesterday are those of the Parkland community. More and more cities are feeling this pain as well, but only because they have experienced an event much like ours. What will it take for the entire nation to realize that changes need to happen to prevent more mass murders in schools? Hopefully, it won’t take a shooting in each city for the people to come to this conclusion.