I want to start off my post echoing the sentiments of sorrow for those children in Florida. Not only those dead, but those living through this nightmare.
I understand that this shooting has also sparked conversations about gun control and mental illness. I think enough has been covered on that, and will continue to be covered. I will leave those arguments to the politicians and lobbyists, to the professionals in the field and the students who will now suffer the psychological effects of surviving such a massacre; to the parents who will suffer the grief of losing a child so early.
I am also not here to blame the victims.
One thing I feel fails to be covered in this mess is bullying. I was a junior in high school when two students opened fire on Columbine High School. The interviews that followed talked about troubled children and how much the two boys were bullied by their classmates. Anti-bullying campaigns began to start in schools, and I followed suit, starting The Student/Community Alliance in my high school, to show the psychological effects of bullying and isolation from peers. I was happy bullying was finally brought to the forefront, as bullying can cause consequences such as this to happen.
There is only so long a person can take it before they break. Sometimes the break is into anger, causing backlash, to fight back, sometimes to the extreme, as in the case of Columbine High School. Sometimes students turn that anger inwards, and the break is ending their own lives. This is actually fairly common, but the media likes the sensationalism of a massacre, and the massacre to own’s own self often doesn’t make national news, or if it does, it’s very brief.
This is not talked about in the case of Florida. It’s not mentioned at all. And, while no one wants to blame the victim, and the world is very politically charged right now, sometimes we have to look inward. Sometimes we have to look at ourselves in how this happened. And no one is doing this. I feel that gun control, mental health topics, and simply pushing this guy off as a “monster” is not going to solve this problem. It will happen again, and again, and again. It has. The 90s had many school shootings. I grew up in a time where this was at the forefront of every teacher. When bullying started to become a conversation, because the student shooters that did not kill themselves, like Kipland Kinkel, spoke about the anger of being isolated from bullying peers. We didn’t label these children as monsters and push them out as a fluke. It was too common.
So where is this conversation now?
My thinking sparked from an interview with one of the students that a reporter spoke to the day of the shooting. When they finally found out who the actual shooter was, the reporter went down the line, and one student spoke up.
He spoke about how this child was labeled as “weird” by his classmates. No one spoke to him because he was so dark. His social media sites indicated a child with some severe mental health problems who needed help, which prompted some students even contact the FBI out of concerns. He ate by himself and it was even “joked” that he was voted most likely to shoot up the school. That everyone knew it.
So, here you have a boy who had lost his parents, had no other family, and was adopted by a family, who then died. (This is the latest stories coming out as of today, so this information may change over time). He was staying with a sort of foster family until he turned 18.
Let’s start with this information only. His parents were lost, and he was adopted into, according to latest reports, a fairly loving family. He may have been a bit weird, but tell me what teenager isn’t. The adoptive parents never appeared to have reported any serious problems with him, and the child has a clear legal history.
He lost them, and was invited to live with a local family who took him in. His social media turned very dark, but the “foster” family never noted any dangerous implications from him. The latest interview on today’s morning show, they are quoted, “we never knew we were living with a monster.” That’s very sad to me, and says a lot of how they thought of him while he was living with them. He was just “staying with them,” so they weren’t even an official foster family. Did they check his social media? Did they pay enough attention to a child who had lost the two parents who he had been raised by? The people he considered his mother and father? Are you just two people who “put him up so he could finish high school,” and now want no responsibility in your ignoring warning signs that there was a severe problem? I am aware he was in therapy, but therapists are not those who love you. Did he feel love that he lost?
A child grieving, goes to school and is isolated by his peers. Withdrawn, and therefore called “weird.” Joked about. When he ate lunch alone did you offer to go up and sit with him? How about instead of just being weird, did you consider grieving, especially at a young age, can cause a teenage mind, a still developing brain, to be awkward and reclusive?
Did anyone at that school do anything, instead of laughing about him in the hallways and even telling the cameras that you openly picked on him, joked about him, and didn’t attempt to talk to the kid?
How would you feel? Joked about by everyone in your school, isolated? Did he “not eat lunch with anyone” or did you not eat lunch with him? Was he so sad and isolated, lost his family, and anyone care? Did you go on social media and be excited that he was forced out of the school?
A massacre to one’s peers takes a lot of anger. A lot. This was personal, especially since he had left school. And before you say, “everyone is bullied at some point in their life,” I am not talking about a little bit of schoolyard name-calling here. That doesn’t cause this kind of anger. I know that anger.
I was bullied because of my weight. I had no friends, zero. I was barked at in hallways, and even beaten up by guys. I was always terrified of the last day of school, TERRIFIED, because kids could do what they wanted and they was no recourse. In fourth grade I was sexual assaulted on the last day of school, and the teacher told me there was nothing he could do so to just ignore it. On the bus ride home, in the fifth grade, a kid who had stolen a lighter by his older brother successfully lit my hair on fire. I was able to get it out before serious damage occurred, but I still have nightmares about it. Being surrounded by kids with nowhere to go, and my hair on fire while they laughed at me. Told me I was less then a person. I never took the bus home on the last day of school again.
My first suicide attempt happened in the fourth grade. My mother found me just as I stuck my head through a homemade noose in my closet. I had fashioned it out of a hanger. She saw me jump off a box. Thankfully, a hanger is a terrible thing to try and make a noose out of and jump off. Or maybe it was my weight. Either way it didn’t work, but I will always remember her face. A mix of helplessness and horror. She grabbed me and just cried. We cried together.
In the sixth grade the police had to get involved. We had bus stops where the school buses would pick us up. Our school bus was running late. As usual I was bullied, but that day four out of the boys picked up sticks. They beat me with them. Four boys. I had taken one of those four boys to a baseball game last year. These were kids who, in general, I considered my friends. We hung out after school, played games of manhunt. There weren’t a lot of kids my age, and really no girls, so while they picked on me, we also hung out. At least they were nice to me some of the time.
And now they were beating me up. Sadly, and to this day, one of the boys who was really mean to me, we never hung out, and I didn’t know his name. That’s how much he meant to me. We went to the same bus stop for a year, he was one of five boys, and I, the only girl, so there wasn’t a lot of us, and I never bothered to learn his name. He didn’t even really know mine. But here he was, one of these four boys beating me up, calling me a dog, telling me that no one would care if a dog like me got beat up. I think what hurt the most was that fifth kid. He could have done something about it. His mother was a stay at home mom, and she was a few houses away from the bus stop. I know this was before cell phones, but he sat there and read while I got beat up. He “didn’t want to get involved.” Want to know the sad part? This wasn’t the first time this had happened, it was just the first time the bus was so late that it gave the kids a sense of confidence and they just kept going. The yellow bus didn’t save me until almost 45 minutes after it was scheduled to show up. I was such a bloody, whipped mess that I had no choice but to tell. The bus driver said nothing when I got on the bus, the girl who sat next to me, when she got on and saw my face forced me to say something. This was a girl who picked on me as well, and I asked her why she cared, that she hated me. She said, “I don’t hate you so much that you deserve that.”
The school and police deemed that quiet kid just as responsible and the mother actually confronted me about it. Came up to me and confronted me, alone. I told her that I never said her son was involved, that her son did nothing. She wanted to know why her son, therefore, was in trouble. I told her again, “because your son did NOTHING. Do you get it?” I walked away and told my mom. She was told never to speak to me again.
Sadly, this further isolated me from the kids in my neighborhood. But, because of what the girl on the bus said, I actually got some self-confidence. Maybe they don’t hate me. I thought everyone hated me. It kind of felt good, that even though they barked at me and called me horrible names, that they didn’t “hate” me. Luckily, later that year a girl did move near, and we became fast friends. So I didn’t care about the boys at the bus stop. Two were better than one, and I now had a girl friend to sit with me at the stop.
I shared these stories because bullying is horrible. It’s sad to be isolated and leads to incidents like the above. I share these stories because they spark anger in me even today. Even today I am angry that charges were never pursued. I am afraid of what I will do, almost 20 years later, if I were to meet those kids again. Part of me wants to go on their social media pages and tell their friends how they abused a woman.
That anger doesn’t go away because school is over. And those are just a few of the incidents I suffered and survived from. And I try to put myself in the shoes of a child who is so angry he brought a gun into the school and started firing. What he really went through in his mind. Maybe he isn’t a monster, just a kid who wanted it to stop. Because in your mind it never stops. And don’t tell me that even though he dropped out of school those students didn’t continue to say nasty things on his social media pages, or to each other knowing he could read it.
And that isn’t talked about. Our responsibility in the making of this “monster” isn’t talked about at all. And it needs to be. Because all the gun control and mental health treatment in the world isn’t going to prevent this from happening again if parents continue to wipe their bullying child under the rug. If schools don’t educate, and if kids isolate one another and pick on them until the person can’t take it anymore.
So I believe there is no monster in this. The student’s that talked the media that day spoke about how he smelled, how he dressed. They were still picking on him as their classmates laid dead. Both sides are in the wrong. Did they deserve to die for it? Absolutely not. Is what he did okay, or normal? Absolutely not. Did he have other mental illnesses going on that contributed to this? Probably. Should he have had access to a gun due to that? Well, looks like from what he was suffering from, the answer would be no. Would gun control and mental health reforms be a good thing in preventing this? Yeah. Would having those things in place have prevented this? I don’t think so.
Our conversation should be about bullying. The access to the gun isn’t the problem, he could have done this with a bat, an ax, a knife. This is a kid who was so angry at the world, and the world just ignored him and added fire to it everyday. And instead, the world is turning away from him AGAIN, labeling him as a monster, even by his own friends he was living with. He has no one on his side. He didn’t have anyone on his side in high school, the people he loved are dead, and the world wants to use him for political fodder on gun control.
We are the monsters here. They didn’t deserve to die, no one did. But this kid was failed. Is continuing to be failed before our very eyes. And no one cares, no one will stop it. He is now being bullied by the world.
Does he deserve that?