I Didn’t Act On Mass Shootings — Until My Son Survived One

Courtesy of Angela Weber
By Angela Weber

A sticker with the words, “Prayer Zone” stays on my windshield. It’s a reminder to pray for students, staff, and administrators when driving through a school zone. As I would pass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I often prayed there would never be an active shooter. In my head, this seemed ridiculous. In my heart, I still prayed. It still happened.

On Dec. 14, 2012, I left my science classroom and picked up my daughter, Kaylee, from Westglades Middle School with a pit in my stomach knowing what I had to tell her. A small town in Connecticut just a few miles from where we once lived had experienced a mass shooting. A 20-year-old murdered 20 young children between 6 and 7 years old and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Mass gun violence was a flight away. And I did nothing.

On June 12, 2016, my family woke up to get ready for church and read the news on social media. Our own state had experienced a mass shooting. A 29-year-old left 49 victims dead and 53 others wounded inside Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. We said goodbyes at brunch to those we knew who were responding to the tragedy, and prayed for the victims and their families. Mass gun violence was less than a day’s drive away. And I did nothing.

On Feb. 14, 2018, I drove through an intersection to pick up my son from elementary school as five police cars turned behind me toward our other son’s high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I quickly texted my oldest son, “Logan are you safe?”

This time, would I do nothing?
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

No sooner had I sent the text, when my neighbor called. Had I heard? There was an active shooter at the high school. We quickly prayed for our sons and hung up to read their texts. “Yes. I am hiding in drama with Herzfeld and everyone else in the back room,” Logan wrote. I responded, “Rumor...rumor...a student heard 8 shots. We saw police rushing to your school.” Our son answered, “Ok I heard them too.”

My heart sank as tears welled up. Mass gun violence was no longer a flight away or a day’s drive away. It was here. It had reached our home. My son survived, but the day ended with 17 beautiful lives gone and 17 others injured. This time, would I do nothing?

A terrible thing happens when horror comes to your town. You learn details of events of those who suffered before you. From Sandy Hook, I learned that using magazines with 30 rounds of ammunition versus 10 rounds of ammunition means a shooter can cut down on the number of times they have to pause to reload. From the Las Vegas shooting, where 58 people died and more than 450 were injured, I learned that while automatic assault rifles are illegal, the bump stock attachments that accelerate a rifle’s shooting rate — allowing it to fire like an automatic weapon — aren’t.

The fact that we cannot control everything should not keep us from doing something.

And from the radiologist treating the victims from my son’s school, I learned that when the high velocity bullets of assault rifles travel through the body, they damage surrounding tissue several inches in diameter. Arteries can experience deadly bleeding without even being hit. Organs can be shattered, and exit wounds can be the size of an orange. Bullets from these weapons don’t even have to be accurate to cause mass carnage.

The days, weeks and months following Feb. 14 have been a nightmare for our community. The fact that there’s protocol for the aftermath of violence like this is mind-boggling. Set up the memorials. Bring in the therapy dogs. Print the t-shirts. Sell the wristbands. All while helicopters hover and news cameras invade our sacred space to share our grief with the masses.

Camera crews camp at our school, but there are moments they do not capture. The tears that fall when moms exchange looks in the grocery store. The extra drive to avoid passing the school and seeing the building. The texts exchanged when helicopters hover without warning, taking us all back to that horrific day. The coffee shop conversations wondering if our child’s trauma is “normal.” The nightmares plaguing our children. Plaguing us.

It was in this aftermath that I came to know parents here in Parkland who feel the same way. Other parents who feel they, too, can no longer do nothing. There is not one answer. There’s no one change that will guarantee this never happens again. But the fact that we cannot control everything should not keep us from doing something.

Zach Gibson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

I felt the need to speak out — to cry out — the day fellow MSD parents met to organize the hundreds of notes sent to our teachers. There were two notes from Newtown, Connecticut, and one from Colorado simply stating, “From one school shooting survivor to another. (Columbine 1999) From JC.” That’s when it hit me. One day, will we be sending these same notes? Yes. We already have.

There are three things that increase the mortality rate in mass shootings: bump stocks, high capacity magazines, and military grade semi-automatic rifles. Families vs Assault Rifles PAC, a political action committee founded by Parkland parents, is working to reclassify military grade semi-automatic rifles, ban bump stocks, and ban high capacity magazines. The PAC is investing in federal election races to clearly identify and support candidates who share its mission. I am one of the parents who support this PAC, because I can no longer do nothing. Can you?

This op-ed reflects the views of Angela Weber, an activist and work-from-home mother. She is committed to community service through her volunteer roles and speaking out to share her support of Families vs. Assault Rifles PAC.