It started with a bomb threat to the entire school district.
It ended with an unnerving and forced reality; one in which, despite growing up with multiple bomb threats and being in high school during Columbine, I was ill-prepared for.
On Thursday night, the notification came and a sweep of the schools was to take place the next morning. As I read the thought out words intended to both alert and reassure, my mind traveled to my own elementary school, standing in the parking lot, waiting for buses to arrive to take us away from the building so the police and firemen could ensure the school was safe.
Another memory quickly followed. I sat in science class, knowing a bomb threat had been made to our high school for that day. Just like now, the only conceivable reaction I had was to write. While the lesson that day was still being taught, the only subject I contemplated was if I would be going home to hug my mom and dad or if this moment would be my last. I watched the clock count down.
Despite complete faith in the teachers and administration at our school, not to mention the officers who were sweeping the buildings, these were my memories and I did not intend to pass those on to my child. At this point, I sat my child down and talked with her.
“I’m scared, Mama.”
Every ounce of me wanted to reply, “Me too, Baby Girl. You are my light and if something happens to you, there is not one part of me that knows how I would continue in this world. And even if they sweep the building, who is to say that nothing is brought in and I’m not willing to take that risk.”
Instead I replied, “I know, Sweetheart. Here is the deal – we cannot live in fear. We cannot say, ‘I am never leaving this room because there may be someone bad outside.’ There are people doing harm all over this world but there are many more people doing good. What you do is you use your senses – the five you learn about in school and your sixth sense (intuition). You take facts and you make the best decisions you can make. We know the facts and that the police, the teachers and your principal will do everything they can to keep you safe. Because you are my child I have to make a decision. I do not see the worry to be worth a day of school, so I am going to keep you at home tomorrow.”
“What about the kids at school? Will their parents send them?”
“They may and that decision is unique to each family. What we do and what another does may differ. There is no right or wrong way. Each family will do what they think is the best decision for their family.”
“Can I sleep by you tonight?”
“Of course, kiddo. Now let’s go play with your brother. He doesn’t know anything about this.”
“Duh, Mama – he is too little.”
That night Facebook buzzed with opinions – ones of which I agreed with:
~Most with true ill-intent do not notify prior to the action taking place.
~We need to trust our law enforcement and administration.
~The schools would be safer Friday than any other day due to the upped security measures.
For the greater majority of opinions, even when someone didn’t come to the same decision as another parent, insults were not thrown. It was clear each conclusion was weighed and not easily made. Friday came and went with no commotion and much quieter classrooms and bus rides.
Monday morning was an act – one of which I pretended there was no concern. There was a nagging worry of “was this a distraction for something today?” but I pushed that aside and sent my artsy, butterfly of a child on her way and met her after. She smiled off the bus, told me about a club she wanted to join, we rushed to basketball practice and stopped at a local restaurant. It was here I received the follow up email.
The twenty-four-year-old woman who sent the threat turned herself in…and then my world stopped for a brief moment.
She was employed at my daughter’s school.
She had access to the school before and after sweeps took place. Entirely what I was concerned about. Never mind the simple fact that she threatened the same children she was entrusted with daily and spoke to parents who more than likely expressed concerns to her.
At this point, my breath caught and I struggled to understand what I was reading. This person spoke with my daughter and her classmates. My friends’ kids were still in her care. My eyes glanced up to my children, happily eating, and I raced to try to comprehend how it was that this person could have threatened their very nature. How do you threaten an elementary school? How do you stare at these innocent little beings and think any ill will at all? How do you joke with them, reassure and talk to the parents, and then send a threat and show up at the same school?
Yes, I know mental health is probably at play here. Although this isn’t a case of a bullied teenager who snapped, many mental health issues come out in the early twenties. From an intellectual point of view, I can disengage, but in that moment, my reaction was from a parental one.
By the time I reached my house, my inbox contained a picture of her Facebook page and my mouth dropped.
She watched my son at summer camp.
This individual was well-liked, fun, trusting, reassuring, happy, bubbly. She asked pertinent questions; she was relatable and energetic. How did any of this make sense?
As I mentioned earlier, I was ill-prepared for these realizations or the flow of questions, numbness, chilling realities, confusion, anger and repeated cycles that came when this hit close to home.
It took all I could to send my son, just barely talking, to summer camp when I had to work and had no other choice. I had to trust it would be okay. I had to have faith in the screening process and even after all of this, I still do. Why? Because largely, background checks are clear when people are in their early twenties. The person can be charming and kind and then suddenly, something happens – maybe drugs, maybe mental health, maybe anything. Although I have been subject to seeing this transformation in individuals I both employ and coach, I have not experienced it in a way that would impact the little humans who rely on me to put them in a safe place.
With bravery, I sent my daughter to school Monday knowing the administration had done everything in their power to keep her safe and yet she saw this person at school. I still have faith in the administration. Why? Because one single person will not change the community that has built itself around the support of our members. Because one person who may be going through something outside of our understanding will not break the power of the family the school has grown. Because there are people all over who do awful things and threaten those we love the very most, but there are more people who do great things, who reach out their hands, who help. This is the community we live in and this is the community that has read the news and in disbelief and concern, started to text each other to check in. Because this is the community where a parent from the high school will turn to a parent from the elementary school and tear up with her because she understands the fear that has entered her heart and is there for her as if her own.