Before I was born, Ted Bundy killed Deborah Kent. My dad knew her and her family. They always kept the porch light on for her. Years and years, they kept that light on for her waiting for her to come home. She never did. I know when I heard this as a little kid, I learned that bad things could happen. People were capable of bad things.
When we were little, a few blocks over from our house in Colorado, an entire family was murdered with a hammer. Not long after that happened a friend from school’s mom disappeared. Her picture was on a poster that hung near the door of our local supermarket for several months. Again I learned that the worst things you can imagine could happen and they could happen close to home.
In February of 1993, my family visited the East Coast. I was fifteen years old. My dad was there for work, and we made it a family trip. One of our stops was the World Trade Center. As we entered the building, something felt off. The bottom floor had glass walls and in the middle was a hallway with a line of elevators on each side.
I remember counting them at the time, but the exact number of elevators escapes me. We waited to enter one and then nearly forty people crammed into the elevator; I think we counted thirty-eight. Because yes, I counted them. That sinking feeling in my gut escalated as I counted each head, and it started to feel more like panic. I turned to my dad and said, “Someone is going to attack this building. You can’t get out. There is no way to get this many people out. Someone might blow it up.” Things like this sometimes escape from my mouth before being able to squelch them down.
He looked at me strange and tried to calm me down. I took that look as the cue to stop that kind of talk. But I didn’t feel any better. The feelings of uneasiness kept gnawing at me. We saw the view, came back down and continued our sightseeing journey. No more unsettling feelings visited me as we went to other attractions. So, I forgot about it.
Two days later we were in Maine, and the first attack on the World Trade Center was on the news. A bomb had exploded in one of the parking garages. My parents looked at me with disbelief. I was crushed. I didn’t understand that the feelings I had were real. That somehow, I knew. Again, I learned that bad things happen. The worst is possible. People can hurt one another.
I remember coming home from high school one day and the news was on. I watched as students were streaming out of a high school to safety. When the town name popped up on the screen, I was shocked. Littleton was home to one of my favorite theme parks as a kid. I had been to Littleton several times, and my friends lived a short distance away from there. I knew that town. I had passed that town on the freeway 100 times at least. I called friends to check-in. This time, I learned that even kids could do the bad things adults had been doing. And it can happen close to people you love.
I remember watching Scream 2 in my first year of college. I hated the first one and had to sleep with the lights on for a week, but my boyfriend and his friends wanted to go. So I went; I was mostly dragged, but I went. There is a scene in the movie where people in the theater are killed. I recall being so angry. I walked out of there telling my friends and boyfriend; they shouldn’t support a movie like that, something like that could happen in real life. They laughed off my concerns and said I was crazy. Movie theaters continued to not feel like a safe place for me. I lived in Aurora, where the Multiplex Theater shooting occurred. It was my home town for five years. It was where my best friend lived. It was a place that even far away from it at the time, I considered home. Again, I called friends and made sure they were safe. People still thought it was something that couldn’t happen to them. People thought this wasn’t something that would be typical. That it wouldn’t keep happening. That day I learned it not only could happen it would. Because bad things did happen. And they did happen again. In fact, they happened again and again and again.
I know I am not alone with stories like these.
And then this Sunday it was text messages and calls to my son’s phone that alerted me that this was happening again. Not far away, not in a place that used to be home, but 8 minutes from our house.
We were not at the Garlic Festival this Sunday; in fact, we only go sporadically. We have lived in Gilroy for nine years. I grew up in Morgan Hill and often attended the festival as a child. I have volunteered there. Last year, my oldest son helped set up and take down tents for the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t think you can live here and not have volunteered there at some point. It is the lifeblood of extra funding for schools, charities, scholarships, and foundations in our community. The festival weekend is always on my oldest son’s birthday and hence why we are sometimes there and sometimes not. Depending on what he wants to do to celebrate and how much we are preparing for those festivities often dictates our attendance. But, my history has made me feel edgy around large groups of people. That can sometimes dictate my participation at events like this as well.
This year, though, it was my youngest son’s soccer team that had us in Santa Cruz, and not at the festival. My oldest still spent every day prior helping set up again this July. It has become one of the events he looks forward to every year. He was supposed to be there Sunday taking down the tents with his friends. Something told me to tell him no. Tell him he couldn’t go. So, I did. I told him we wouldn’t make the extra effort to get him there. No, he couldn’t hang back with friends and catch a ride. Just no. He didn’t understand my adamant no and neither did I really. But I honor my gut feelings without reason these days.
I have talked to others and heard stories over the last several days of similar gut feelings. Why aren’t we all built with those? Why didn’t we know what the gut feeling meant? Why did this happen? Why does it keep happening? Why is this our new normal? Why do our kids have to be heroes? Why do our teachers have to shield our babies from bullets? Why?
Those are rhetorical questions, of course. There is no right answer and maybe no answer to some of them.
I am scared. I am devastated. I am still reeling. But, I am not surprised.
No, I have seen, heard and watched the terror we can bring down on each other for my entire life. Senseless violent acts have littered my entire existence. What happened Sunday in Gilroy isn’t about this town or one individual; it is about us. It is about our country, us as a people. What happened here can happen to your town, too.
It is a complex problem these mass shootings, there is no one answer, but a multitude of things that we need to resolve, examine, fix. And I am not going to make this post about the solution, but about the reality that this is happening in small towns. And it isn’t about the solution because I am done debating. I want action. And what we need to face is that when people say things like, “I never thought this would happen here.” Or, “Stuff like this doesn’t happen in small towns.” those statements just are not true. We need to stop being delusional. We need to stop ignoring the obvious. It is happening. It will happen again. It isn’t stopping.
* Sebring, Florida
* Aurora, Illinois
Blacksburg, Virgina – Virginia Tech University
* Virginia Beach, Virgina
Newtown, Connecticut – Sandy Hook Elementary
Killeen, Texas – Luby’s Cafeteria
Parkland, Florida – Stoneman Douglass High School
Littleton, Colorado – Columbine High School
Aurora, Colorado – Century Aurora 16 Multiplex Theater
These are just a few of the small towns where this has happened. I am not even counting the big cities in this, and they count. Las Vegas, Nevada and the shooting that occurred there, I had friends there. My aunt and uncle live there. Oh, it counts. But I have heard it can’t happen in a small town so many times in the last few days, that I am just addressing that at the moment.
Some of these incidents in these small towns occurred as long as 28 years ago and some as recently as less than a week ago. This is what we can come to expect if we don’t start examining and changing our behaviors, laws, and societal standards.
This is our new normal. We need to face the reality that this will happen in your home town. It is precisely why every school in America has code red drills. Every town is preparing for it. But not every town is preventing it.
This will be something our children face in their lifetime or that we might face in our lifetime. There can be no more “this will not happen here” statements.
It happens in tight knit communities, big towns, small towns, homes, apartment complexes, churches, movie theaters, malls, parks, schools, it will and can happen anywhere. It will because it has. Start thinking like that and maybe we can start changing that reality. Perhaps we can actually get lawmakers to take action.
I saw the fear on my son’s face as he received call after call and made call after call to check and make sure his friends, his girlfriend were okay. That they were unharmed. I watched the terror when one of his best friends didn’t answer and the thought of her death flickered across his eyes. We shouldn’t have to see that. Our children shouldn’t have to face that thought. The past few days on Facebook I am reading of friends’ children who ran for their lives. Who huddled in corners wondering if this was how they were going to die. This needs to change. We can do better.
I watched my own children huddle on our floor and wait for the sounds of sirens and helicopters to stop. I watched my children the next day hear a balloon pop and all look at me with fear. What do we do mom? Their faces said. Do we run? Do we drop to the ground? Is it time to worry?
I stayed calm for them, but I am telling you all it way past time to worry. It is way past time to be calm. It is way past time to say this isn’t going to happen. It is way past time to think it can’t be your town. It is way past time to think it can’t be your child. It is way past time to debate. It is way past time to make this about politics. This is about our safety. This is about the welfare of the people in our country and nothing changes if nothing changes. It is way past time.
When I think about Gilroy, it is the best community in the world, but I am not ready to go out and put on a brave face. My heart is still hurting. I am not prepared to pretend that we can just say we are strong. I am not ready to go back to life as usual because life as usual means there is a genuine possibility this will happen again. It could be here. It could be in your home town. Why? Because it happened in ours. This is not just our town where things like this happen. It is in every town.
I am shattered. I am scared. I am reeling and I wasn’t even there. But I am not shocked. I am not surprised. This is what has been happening for decades.
It makes me cry and sick to my stomach to read and hear first hand about how this is affecting my friends, their children, our town. I can only begin to imagine the devastation this has done. I know there is Gilroy strong and people are trying to look forward and already trying to heal; I understand the need for that. But I also think we need to slow down and talk about Gilroy hurting. What are we rushing for? I am not in a hurry to get back to status quo that wasn’t working. That isn’t working. I want to take stock and figure out what to do next. We can move past it as a people, but we need to remember and use that memory to fuel action, fuel the changes that have to take place so this doesn’t happen again. We need to recognize this is now the reality. This is now what we should come to expect until we start doing something differently.
I am heart-broken. I am grief stricken. I am disconsolate.
But I will not rest until there is a different reality for my children. I will not rest until there is different reality for your children. I will not stop bringing up this topic or voting for people who are going to make real change, or donating money to causes that call for change, because if we are complacent if we think someone else will handle it, it won’t change.
We need to be a voice. We need to speak up. And in this I am hopeful. In this is where I find strength. If we can come together and write to our politicians and talk to our kids, and look for signs, and work to really see one another I think we can be better. I believe our future can be brighter. I believe there is light in this darkness and I think we can find our way out, but it can’t be done by sticking our heads in the sand and thinking it won’t happen again. It won’t be done by holding to party lines. It won’t be done by clinging to our rights or our fears, we have to put the welfare of all above our own when it comes to gun ownership. We have to be ready to be uncomfortable and have serious conversations. We have to be willing to hear it might be our kid that needs help. We might have to face hard truths, but it is worth it. It will make a difference. And together if we really want change it is possible.
I don’t have the answers, but we can start by some of the ideas below, and if you are doing something I haven’t listed tell me, I will add it to the list.
The bottom line is hurt people hurt people, this is just that on a massive scale. Let’s start with the easiest thing first. See one another. Be kind. Be helpful. Think about others and how your actions affect other people.
Write to an elected or to all your elected officials: https://www.sccaor.com/contact-your-elected-officials/
Donate. Educate yourself. Join groups that want to change the gun safety regulations. Here are a few:
Talk to your kids. This article on the Parents Magazine website seemed to have a comprehensive overview: https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-gun-violence/
I also liked this article on USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/08/stem-school-highlands-ranch-how-to-talk-to-kids-about-guns-shootings/1138840001/
Educate yourself and your kids on the signs someone might be exhibiting before they act. This website has a downloadable guide: https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/prevention_programs
I know I didn’t touch on everything. I know we have a lot of ground to cover to make this better, but I want to start here. I want to start where I am and maybe after reading this today you will, too. And that gives me hope.
Working for a better tomorrow,