Gun Violence in Our Schools: A Victim Speaks Out

“I went to Chardon High School, which is in Northeast Ohio, Geauga County, 45 [minutes] to an hour away from Cleveland.”

Courtney Eden, ’19, sat down to talk about the shooting at Chardon High School on Feb. 27, 2012.

TJ Lane, the high schooler who six years ago ended three students’ lives, caused permanent physical damage to two others, and traumatized an entire school.

“It happened in the cafeteria,” Eden recalled, “where they held the students who were waiting to get on the bus to get to their academies, which is what [Lane] was waiting to do. He was waiting to go to his academy, which Chardon had transferred him to, because of behavioral problems. I was in my physical science class, right by one of the student parking lot doors.”

Eden remembers sitting by the window looking over the parking lot, when she heard what sounded like textbooks falling in the classroom above her, followed by a teacher yelling ‘Get down’. No one in the classroom had any idea what was going on, and the confusion terrified them.

Eden looked out the window over the parking lot and saw that “there were students just scattering, going out that door, just scattering. There was one person that I noticed that was running in one single direction away from all the other students, and that was like right past my window and, as we found out, that was the shooter, running to where his grandparents house was.”

That image of Lane running past the window still haunts Eden: “That’s always been my general fear. What if he decided to actually turn around and shoot inside the window?”

In a poem she wrote about the event, Eden pours her fear and memories of the event with the lines: “All I can remember clearly is panic / not knowing something this satanic”.

“It started out just a normal day. It was a Monday.”

Eden said that she and other students were trying to contact parents and friends to find out what was going on, but there were so many calls going through that the cell tower was blocked, so the school was sitting in silence.

“I was getting text messages from the schools around the area cause I had so many friends in the school districts around the area that were like ‘Hey, what’s going on? We’re watching the news, what is happening,’” Eden said, smiling wryly. “And it’s like, you guys know a lot more about what’s happening; you guys are watching the news. You should be telling me.”

After the tragedy that ended in the arrest of Lane, schools around the country sent their love and support to Chardon High School.

“Virginia Tech got in contact with us after it happened and tried to help us through it,” Eden said. “Our hallways were cluttered in cards and banners and we had a really nice banner given to us by Columbine, and I’m pretty sure it is still nailed to the wall…and so many elementary school kids sent us cards, and each locker had at least two cards on them.”

“We started a program on campus after it happened, it was called Random Acts of Kindness, which was a great way to give back to the community and to everyone,” Eden said. “[Chardon is] making a park [for the victims]; making sure they are giving back to the community for what they have done for us.”

Eden says she tried to do one random act of kindness each day in memory of the community that supported her school following the murders.

People are more likely to hear about the Columbine shooting in 1999, or the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, than a small school shooting with three deaths. The number of lives lost does not change the reality that young students are afraid for their lives and safety in their schools.

According to a survey done by a gun safety support organization, “Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America – an average of about one a week.”

With the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, Nikolas Cruz used a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle purchased legally at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Florida earlier that month. No laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon, so Cruz could walk into a gun store at nineteen-years-old and purchase an assault rifle.

TJ Lane was known to have behavioral problems and dealt with a lot of bullying in high school. Eden believes that if the high school had taken more steps to work with Lane and improve his behavior, there could have been the possibility of avoiding the catastrophe.

“I think schools should be doing a lot more in noticing those signs,” she said. “I know it’s been mentioned with the Florida shooter… that he also did have mental issues as well. That’s something they need to include in background checks.”

The background checks required to purchase a firearm deem someone mentally incompetent to own a weapon only if “[They are] involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, or if a court or government body declares [them] mentally incompetent,” according to a CNN article published in 2013. These requirements are very broad and leave a lot of loopholes, and there’s a great danger of a mentally unstable person acquiring a firearm.

Since the Florida shooting, the Trump administration has talked about tightening the regulations for background checks and requirements for owning a firearm. But the same talk happened in 2013, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The American Psychological Association published an article that hoped for the unfreezing of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s funded research towards gun violence, but nothing happened.

Eden says that one of the surviving victims of the Chardon shooting, Nick Walczak, had “gone to government officials to do something, to try and get something done, some control, but that was obviously in 2013 and nothing has changed. We’ve been trying for so many years and nothing has changed.”

High school students around America are making efforts to create change in gun safety regulations in America. The Women’s March’s Youth EMPOWER group organized a National School Walk-out on March 14, in which teachers and students from high schools across America could walk out for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims of the Florida shooting. There is an event called March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., to advocate school safety.

Eden believes that these students have the capability of making a real difference with the support of teachers and research to back them up. Eden herself wants to go into teaching to make changes in how schools address violence.

“I [want to] help students that have these problems, or at least notice those signs so I can get them help,” Eden said. “I think schools should be doing a lot more in noticing those signs.”

She also wants to start acting at Wittenberg, and organizing events that allows students like her, who have been victims of mass violence, to speak out to inform our school of the severity of violence in American schools.

“These stories of people that are going through these events should be heard,” Eden said.

The final stanza of Eden’s poem says, “I realize I couldn’t change what happened / But I shouldn’t let the memory be trapped.”

The first step to change is sharing these stories so others can know and respect those whose lives are lost.

“A lot of people take life for granted,” Eden said. “So you just gotta live every day to the fullest and be kind to people. You never know what day will be your last. Which is sad to think, but in this world, you gotta have that in the back of your mind.”

We have been living in a period of apathy, where the only thing that gets done is some small talk that dies away within a few weeks. The lives of the next generation of people are in danger in their schools, and action needs to be taken to make schools safer, whether that’s tighter regulation on the ownership of firearms, or better psychiatric intervention in high schools.

Both our national government and we, as citizens, need to effect change and save the lives of the future.

 

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