What struck me was not that I was shocked, but rather that it felt as if it were my turn. It was my turn to hear there was a school shooting—17 dead, more than a dozen wounded—and find out it was a school whose hallways I had walked myself. I grew up in Coral Springs, in the northeast corner of Florida’s Broward County, and went to Coral Springs High School; this made Marjory Stoneman Douglas in nearby Parkland one of our rivals. I had friends who went there. I went to various types of regional tournaments there, including a math competition once for extra credit. I remember how, in some ways, it is so distinctly South Florida, with breezeways instead of hallways; it sits on a paved-over and suburbanized stretch of the Everglades and is named after an Everglades conservationist. It was and is known as a great public school of the kind that brings families to affluent, well-manicured suburbs like Parkland. I said lots of shitty things about the kids who went there, of course, as I’m sure they said shitty things about my school, too.
And yet I was not surprised at all. If anything, I felt the dull hollowness of having been somehow prepared. There already had been a bomb threat called into my old Hebrew school last year, and also a mass shooting in the baggage claim of the hometown airport. Near where I live now, it’s barely the two-year anniversary of the San Bernardino massacre, and a young boy was shot at a nearby middle school just two weeks ago.
When I covered crime, I told people that you get used to it. You get used to meeting complete strangers on the worst days of their lives. You get used to asking mothers for pictures of their dead children. You get used to going to funerals. You get used to realizing that every day someone dies in some brutal and undeserved way. You get used to seeing the death of someone’s brother or sister or mother or father or cousin or best friend or neighbor or boss or coworker or spouse or son or daughter get shoved onto the back pages of a newspaper or buried at the bottom of a homepage because, for everyone else, it’s just another dead person and because there are so many of those, every day. You get used to thinking that everyone is armed. You get used to assuming the worst in your fellow man. To my friends outside of journalism, I sounded insane. I tried to not bring up my work too much around strangers. It seemed in some way impolite.
It sounds so normal now. On Wednesday I desperately wanted to scream for everything to stop—right now, this very second— for one moment so I could process. Nothing stopped, of course, because nothing stops. Frantic posts from friends back home were intertwined on Twitter with the expected Olympics enthusiasm and silly Valentine’s Day pictures. Facebook wasn’t much better, although it never is. The sports blogs kept coming. And why should it have stopped? There will be another one, in another state, in another community, affecting another person like me, and people like these, soon enough. The world will not stop for them either.
In my mind, as someone who has done the job, I can see all the next steps because I know them. They haven’t changed. Reporters will flood the zone. They’ll interview all the family members of the dead and, like I once did, ask for photos. They’ll check for court records on the person charged with the shooting. They’ll find the shooter has a history of domestic violence, scour social media, search for any internet trace, and interview his friends if he has them. They’ll ask for copies of all the investigative reports from the sheriff’s office, as well as any photos or video. They’ll do tick-tock stories of how it all happened, and later investigative pieces about how it could perhaps have been prevented, and explanatory articles on the number of guns that are everywhere, and maybe someone will finally just flat-out say that the National Rifle Association openly runs the Florida legislature. Some people will say they had no idea the shooter could be capable of such a thing. Others will say that they found it no surprise at all.
I went to high school in the mid-1990s, and still remember the long, sensitive conversations teachers tried having with us after the Columbine massacre because it seemed so unprecedented. I think back to how much I hated talking about my work when I was in my twenties: “Oh, that sounds so depressing,” people would tell me or, “Wouldn’t you rather do something positive?” they’d politely suggest.
I never got around to doing something positive. Instead I kept working and everyone and everything else caught up. Now everyone worries that everyone else is armed, and everyone assumes the worst. I assume there will be another school shooting soon, because I have no reason to believe otherwise. I doubt you’ll tell me I’m wrong. You know, too.