“i love u guys”

I applaud the brave students from Florida, who in the aftermath of the tragic Parkland shooting are demanding gun reform in efforts to prevent more lives from being senselessly taken in another act of violence. I cannot imagine how much courage it takes for them to speak out about the atrocities they endured while lobbying politicians for change. Seeing the passion of these students gives me hope for the future, because these are the young people shaping their communities.

The unity and support for the survivors of the horrific events in Florida is reminiscent of my own community’s response to the Platte Canyon shooting in Colorado in 2006. I was ten years old that day. We just arrived back from a field trip, and the principal immediately began lockdown procedures. The school day was about to end, but we were not allowed to leave until our parents could come to pick us up. Students also had to wait hours for the highway to reopen after the sheriff dissolved the lockdown perimeter around Platte Canyon High School. I watched the news with my family that night and learned more about the jarring events, which would forever affect my community. A peculiar and disturbing hostage situation at the high school had ended in the shooting death of 16-year-old Emily Keyes. Her last text, “i love u guys,” is now immortalized in my community — our battle cry for healing and progress in the aftermath of loss.

The first Emily’s Ride, an annual motorcycle parade from Columbine High School to Platte Canyon High School, occurred ten days after the tragedy. It was a huge success, with 5,000 motorcycles participating. Along the Highway 285 corridor those who were not riding lined the roadside, sitting in lawn chairs, typically holding signs, and sometimes releasing balloons into the air.

The astonishing show of support and simultaneous fundraising efforts inspired the launch of the “I Love U Guys” Foundation. After several years of research, the foundation developed the Standard Response Protocol, a procedure for dealing with threats at schools. Many school districts (including my own) across the United States and Canada have already implemented this program. Members of the foundation are currently working to spread knowledge about best practices in dealing with threats at school in their initiative to increase student safety internationally.

However, I cannot ignore one stark contrast between the reaction of many in Parkland and that of my own community. Both of our communities prayed together, mourned together, and worked to provide counseling to those most affected by the tragedy. We discussed policy changes. However, I do not remember a single discussion about gun control in my community, and for good reason. Platte Canyon is a “remote rural” Title I school in an area where hunting provides sustenance for many community members and helps combat childhood hunger. The overwhelming majority of residents are gun owners, and the Platte Canyon shooting has been the only major incident of gun violence in the community.

The one-size-fits-all divisive rhetoric surrounding school shootings is not only offensive, but unfair. Particularly upsetting is the notion that those who do not immediately demand gun control following a school shooting are the problem, even the reason, that innocent students were subjected to abhorrent levels of violence and trauma. No matter how much some people may hate “Republicans,” the truth is that no one, except a very small number of extremely disturbed individuals, would ever want an innocent student to die in a school shooting. Indeed, it was a Republican, Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener, who made the brave decision for police to storm the high school and confront the suspect when negotiations fell through. His son was inside the school that day.

Although my community did not discuss gun control, we did not do nothing. We discussed ways to make schools safer and recognized the complex array of issues that contribute to the upsetting number of school shootings in this country. My community was able to improve school safety after the shooting. We adopted new procedures, such as locking all the doors to the school except for the main entrance. The school district stationed a deputy sheriff there to check visitors in. Like the people of Parkland, Florida, we came together to do what was best for our community. I hope the brave students lobbying politicians are able to improve the safety of the other students around them, just as my community did in the aftermath of our own tragedy.