I was 15 when they started school-shooter drills.

colorado columbine flowers outside

A few days ago, I wrote this piece on Facebook in response to a Business Insider article about the riots at Capitol Hill on 6th January, 2021.

In it, they said that Nancy Pelosi (the Speaker of the House) said that “rioters thumped on the door of the barricaded conference room while staffers hid, and that in taking cover they had followed active shooter drills learnt in high school.”

I was 15 when they started drills. They weren’t called “active shooters,” they were called “school shootings.”

Our teacher, Mr Smith, held up a sign that seemed to have been printed and laminated that morning.

“This red sign means that we’ve got wounded people in this room. If you have to put it up, it’s because I’m dead, because no one is getting to you without going through me.” We believed him. Mr Smith was an agreed badass.

It was in the few days that followed Columbine.

Newsreaders continuously repeated that Colorado and national authorities fear “copycat crimes.” We kept seeing our state emblem, the sweet little Rocky Mountain columbine, on national news. The very word chills me now, more than two decades later. It was the name of a high school so very much like ours, just up I-25, a couple hours away.

My friends and I speculated about how we could get down from the huge windows that overlooked empty, dust-yellow fields. We reckoned that between us, we could probably smash them, but some were dubious. They were massive, double-glazed, Colorado-weather-resistant panes in steel frames. Someone pointed out that there was a weight room next door, and we could use the barbell arms to jam the door, and the dumbbells to bash even these windows.

But, how would we get down?

“I could jump that! Shit, if someone’s shooting, we’ll all jump that. Better to break a leg and run than get fucking shot.”

Several weeks later, the entire school marched out and walked hundreds of students down the road to the nearest middle school, where we sat on the gym floor for several hours while Mr Smith kept reassuring us that it was going to be ok.

“They’ll clear the school, and sweep every room. They’ll make absolutely sure it’s safe, and there aren’t any bombs.”

Everyone was remarkably calm, spoke in whispers, and stared blankly a lot. Repeated phrases of “copycat,” and “bomb threat.”

I never learned the full story. Rumours were that a student had called in a bomb threat. I’ve never been clear, and the memories are vague. We all marched back, and parents came and calmly picked up their kids.

But, I can still hear the sound of our knuckles knocking on those windows, testing their solidity. I still imagine trying to smash them with the dumbbells from next door.

Every American young enough to have been in school in the early 2000s has been taught how to react to gunmen just for going to school.

That is the strongest story I know about what is wrong with America.

colorado columbine flowers outside
Wild Flowers – Colorado Blue Columbine” by Larry Lamsa, (CC BY 2.0) via flickr.

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