Discussing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shootings: It Could Happen Anywhere USA

Editors Note: While this is a cat-related blog, the post to follow is not about cats. I respect your decision if you chose not to read on, but I truly hope you will. The recent shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida affect all of us and it’s imperative we open lines of communication talk about it in order to help prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.

Saturday, February 10, was a beautiful South Florida day. We were gifted with a deep blue sky, puffy clouds, and a delightful breeze. Dan’s a photography enthusiast and he wanted to take advantage of the exquisite day by visiting the equestrian center located in the city neighboring us to take pictures of horses competing at an agility event. I decided to join him, looking forward to a peaceful and relaxing day.

The center is only a few miles away and it’s situated in a city that harkens back to my life in upstate New York. Unlike the typical palm trees you find lining the streets of most of South Florida, this community is also graced with woodland forests, rolling farmland, horses, and old-fashioned wooden fences.

One of many horse farms we passed by on our way to the equestrian center.

It’s a well-to-do area – clean, pretty, and beautifully landscaped. As we drove to the center, we passed an assortment of people enjoying the day – kids riding bikes, people walking their dogs, and joggers enjoying the cooler temperatures. We also drove past a high school that has been recognized as a School of Excellence in the state of Florida. Even though my kids are long since grown up, I thought to myself, what a wonderful place to raise a family and it made me nostalgic for my childhood days when life seemed simpler.

We had a lovely time and Monday at work I shared a picture Dan had taken of me with one of the horses with my co-worker, as she lived in the city where the center was located and also worked at one of their most popular restaurants in the evenings. On Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, I woke up to my usual ritual – post something quickly about the day on Facebook, get ready for work, do a cat head count before heading to work, then drive through maddening rush hour traffic to get to work. It was all very hectic, stressful, and annoying. In a nutshell, it was normal.

Enjoying a lovely day with this stunning horse, Sunnie.

How could I have possibly predicted the events to follow? It was approximately 2:30 p.m. and my co-worker leaned over to tell me she had gotten a text there was a suspect on the loose in our area who had shot some students at a high school. The school was Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The very school that Dan and I had driven past a few days prior, and the school where many of the students worked part-time at the restaurant my co-worker works at.

Just like that, in the blink of an eye, life in our community forever changed. I live in Coral Springs and we share a close relationship with our neighboring friends in Parkland. All mass shootings are tragic, but this one hit home. Besides the connection my co-worker had to the students (and the parents of the students), the wife of Dan’s employer is a teacher there. I was a zombie while driving home and the traffic was horrendous. When I got into the house, Dan had the news on. It wasn’t a dream. It was really happening. A 19-year old with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and had fatally shot 17 people, with 14 more wounded. And to make it even more real, after fleeing the scene, he was apprehended in Coral Springs about an hour later.

As for so many of us, it’s hard to put into words the range of emotions you feel watching the events unfold around you – anger, shock, sadness, raw pain, despair, disbelief, rage, bitterness, hopelessness, and deep agony come to mind. It’s difficult to wrap your head around something so heinous and incomprehensible, but the one thing I do understand is that this isn’t just Parkland anymore. Or Sandy Hook, or Las Vegas, or Orlando, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine, or any of the other mass shootings in recent years. This is clearly anywhere USA and we all should feel the pain and outrage because we are all neighbors in one sense or another in this great country of ours.

Parkland was named the safest city in Florida last year based on analysis by the Washington National Council for Home Safety and Security but none of us is truly safe from someone with a gun and a premeditated agenda unless we do something to help prevent this emerging trend. We all have our theories on what should be done and I think it’s important we share our feelings and opinions. But that’s all they are right now. Nobody has a simple fix that will make this problem instantly go away, or stop it from happening ever again. Our society needs a massive overhaul on multiple levels and it’s going to take enormous, collective effort to change the direction our country is heading down.

These abandoned bikes at what now is a crime scene is an eerie irony for a school named the safest in the state…

It will be a long time before anything is normal again, if ever. Across the street from the school is a caravan of media trucks and tents that have been parked since the shootings.

Despite how surreal everything is, even in tragedy, hope and the resiliency of the human spirit shine through.

I’m not an expert on this subject by any means. I don’t have statistical data to back up my opinions, I’m simply speaking from my heart and sharing some of the factors I think are contributing to where we are today. Please forgive me for speaking in generalities – I know there are exceptions to everything, this is just my overall summation. 

I believe there came a point in American society over the past 30 or so years where women with children did not have the option of staying home for the majority of their child’s formative years (birth through five years). Cost of living standards made it impossible for couples to survive on one income, forcing children into daycare/babysitting at a much younger age. Years ago parents could rely on their own parents to help with babysitting, but that luxury began to erode with time. The stresses and responsibilities of work also began to increase, translating to both moms and dads coming home later and later – typically exhausted – struggling to keep up with the daily chores of running a household.

Basic family togetherness time starts to suffer – less time is spent helping kids with homework, less time is spent eating meals together, less time is spent on community activities, less time is spent on conversation and knowing what is going on in your child’s life. It wasn’t an intentional erosion of the family unit, but it was happening. Many kids became latch-key, plunked in front of a TV as an adjunct babysitter with no adult supervision. Divorce rates began to increase, single parenting increased and the cohesion of the family unit became harder to maintain.

The days of extended families began to fray – families that used to live in the same town or even the same street are now living all across the country. Some children have never met their grandparents, let alone aunts and uncles or cousins. We start to lose touch with basic traditions that are passed on from generations. We don’t know our neighbors anymore and the days of playing outside in the fresh air are long gone.

Creative and independent thinking begins to suffer and technology begins to expand at warp speed. Video games come into the mainstream, with violence being glorified without any consequences of actual moral reality. Kill someone. Hit restart and kill them again. Violent movies win Oscars and critically acclaimed television programming centers around killing on a daily basis. We are becoming desensitized and it’s like wallpaper in the background of our life.

Because life has become so hectic, adults are also caught up in the warp of technology. We don’t know how to cook anymore – it’s all fast food or microwaves. We don’t have to use math anymore because we have computers. Newspapers have become extinct, cursive writing is not mandatory in many schools and nearly everything has become automated. We don’t have to think anymore. Google or Echo does it all for us and we’re verging on a world very soon where we will have driverless cars and we already have some stores where our groceries are being paid for while we walk through the store using an app on our phone.

The work ethic of our youth is being compromised because so much of everything is just given to them and our social skills are suffering immensely. We don’t know how to talk anymore. We don’t even want to talk anymore. Emails, texts, selfies, anything but actual conversation.  And please, 280 characters or less if you don’t mind, as we’re no longer capable of having an extended attention span. It’s easier to stay in your own little cocoon and have everything delivered to you, whether physical items that come to your door from Amazon, or intrinsic friendships we make online with strangers, but we can’t make with our own neighbors.

Now everybody gets an award at school and teachers get reamed by parents if they dare to say anything constructively negative about their child. We can’t raise our voices, we can’t spank, and many of the role models kids have today center around vapid concepts found on social media. And because parents have so little real time with their children – and I’m talking parents in any sense of the word – straight, gay, single, whatever – often they prefer to slide into the role of friend, rather than a parent.

It’s just easier to give in. We complain about our kids on iPhones, but we do it as adults too. Go into any public setting and you’ll see the vast majority of the population on their phones rather than interacting with one another. We text while driving, and we keep our phones next to us while our children have their phones glued to their faces rather thank looking at the real world around them. We are losing control and we are often not seeing the signs around us.

In the case of Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, apparently there were signs everywhere. It’s an utter tragedy because innocent lives did not need to be lost and the shootings could have been prevented. Since the shooting, students and teachers and former neighbors have described a troubled, recently orphaned young man fascinated with guns and killing animals with a history of disturbing social media posts who had been expelled from Stoneman for fighting and carrying bullets in his backpack.

Another tragic irony of the shootings – there were signs everywhere promising safety, but not enough to prevent the horrific carnage.

Law enforcement agencies had received over 20 calls in the last few years regarding Cruz and his erratic behavior. But none of it was enough to follow protocol which is staggering to understand. And the rifle Cruz bought was done with a full background check at an established gun shop, passing with “no red flags.”

If we are to learn anything from this, at the very least can we mandate that under no circumstances, EVER, should any civilian be issued a semi-automatic weapon, let alone a teenager? What on earth does a teenager need with an automatic weapon? And let’s be frank – when our forefathers drafted the Constitution they in no way could have fathomed the weaponry of our current society. If they could, clearly the 2nd Amendment would have been written differently so as to allow for more restrictive control on gun ownership.

We need a rewind, people. It’s time for this world to slow down. We don’t need phones with even more features. We don’t need more television channels. We don’t need drones dropping food deliveries at our door. We need to start listening and participating in the actual world around us before we become practically helpless to do anything on our own anymore.

While I didn’t know any of the victims personally, I wanted to pay my respects to them. There was a steady stream of people stopping to bring flowers, notes, stuffed animals, and more while I was there.

It was a very humbling moment to lay witness to the outpouring of love and compassion for those that lost lives in the shootings.

We need Friday evenings with neighbors, playing board games. We need to embrace our teachers and listen to them when they think a child might be acting out as a cry for help. We also need to let them teach. Teachers have enormous hurdles to deal with on a daily basis – overcrowding in classrooms, underfunding, children with special needs and more. Now they have to deal with potential life-threatening violence as well. It’s just not right and it’s not fair to place that kind of burden and responsibility on them.

We also need less overtime at work so we can spend more time at home. We need less time on our computers and phones and more time becoming involved in our communities. We need to take walks with our kids, cook with them, eat meals with them, and encourage them to read books – anything that gets their minds working on their own. We need tighter gun control laws, we need better mental health programs, we need to improve safety securities in our schools, such as metal detectors, and we need to take the red flags of disturbing behavior seriously. In essence, we can no longer be complacent and think just because it’s not happening to us directly, that it’s not our problem because unless we do something, one day it could happen to you or someone you love.

Seventeen crosses with seventeen hearts grace the front of the high school in honor of those that lost lives. This image will forever haunt me and I pray these precious beings are resting in peace.

No parent should ever say goodbye to their child in the morning, sending them to school – a place that should be safe, nurturing, and secure, only to find out they’ve been brutally murdered and that they’ll be burying them a few days later. Precious, innocent children as well as a teacher, an assistant coach, and an athletic director whose lives abruptly ended for no comprehensible reason. And those that survived, witnessing unspeakable carnage and horror. Friends, siblings, extended family members, neighbors, law enforcement officials, first responders, doctors, nurses, community members, faculty, school staff and more. How do they move on? We simply can’t let this event turn into another one. We must work with our politicians and communities to affect change. It starts at home and it needs to start today.

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  1. Ingrid King says:

    I can’t even imagine how much harder this is to cope with when it happens so close to home. I agree with all the points you made about the changes that need to happen in our society. I’m so impressed with how the surviving students at that school have turned to activism in the wake of this tragedy – they give me hope that maybe change is possible. We all need to stand with them and speak out against politicians who value money above human lives. We need to turn out in even greater numbers than we did at the Womens March last year on March 24: https://www.marchforourlives.com/ and we need to vote in November!

    • Deb says:

      I agree with you as well, Ingrid. I am so proud of these students – they give me hope too and my heart tells me if anyone can make a difference it will be them. Everyone has finally had enough and the momentum of what they’re spearheading is gaining traction quickly.

  2. Patricia A Holland says:

    What a powerful article you wrote, It should be sent to everyone in Washington D.C. Thank you Deb.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Patricia – I’m glad you felt the power of my message and I appreciate you feeling it worthy of sending to Washington. I think I will send it – everyone needs to speak up and it’s the least I can do.

  3. We all grieve for Parkland; there is no sense in senseless.

  4. You definitely hit all the points about the “evils” of modern society. I was born white in the 40’s so I had the idyllic childhood, you wish we could hearken back to. But there is no going back. In the next 20 years technology will make society unrecognizable. There is a sociological term called “Compassion fatigue”. The more tragedies you are exposed to, the less empathy you have toward the victims. Great outrage over Columbine 20 years ago. Thought some gun control possible. Today, there will be no gun control outrage–compassion fatigue. The one chance was missed. There is also a sociological effect when people are in different “groups”. The farther away you are, the less empathy you have with the people in the far away group you do not belong to. I turned on the tv here in Washington State when the news was breaking. When i found out it was in Florida, I turned it off. Not around here–not my problem. Don’t care about it–don’t want to know about it. Compassion fatigue. This is another reason getting the whole country involved is not possible on this issue. Finally, I never write about current events on my cat blog, so probably best to steer clear of it!

    • Deb says:

      I hear what you’re saying to an extent Greg and I appreciate your honesty. It’s part of the fabric of our current society and I understand what you’re saying. I’m deeply embroiled in the cat world and there is not a day that goes by on social media that I don’t see a tragic image or a post of a cat that has passed on. It’s mentally draining and sometimes I just scroll by, rather than absorbing the sadness of it all and that’s also called compassion fatigue. But what happened in Parkland can happen anywhere and I think we do need to talk about it, and writing is how I deal with things. If I can inspire or motivate even one person, then I’ve already made a difference. I try not to bog my readers down with current events, but what affects me in my little neck of the woods, affects my cats because they can sense my emotions.

  5. jmuhj says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I watched the news coverage, all day, of Columbine. At that point, I was more than heartbroken. Every subsequent mass murder has just added to my feelings of frustration and despair over the fact that those in power bow to the influence of a special-interest group that not only does not reflect the ideology of the majority of people, but all too often is complicit in the taking of lives of innocent animals and human beings. Sandy Hook was the final straw for me. If a roomful of tiny 6-year-old babies gunned down at their desks doesn’t bring about change, WHAT WILL?
    Thanking you for your heartfelt words and sharing to social media, which I do believe is a powerful force for good and for change — and trying to keep hope, until the next time. Because we all know there will BE a next time.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you jmuhj. Social media can be both good and bad and in this case, I do think we need to use it as a powerful force for change. Sandy Hook was unspeakably tragic and I haven’t forgotten it either. You make some very powerful points and I appreciate your comments.

  6. We’re so sad for your country. Seen from here, the actual gun laws are simply incomprehensible and directly related with those tragedies. We hope laws will change as they did in Australia in 1996. Purrs

    • Deb says:

      I can only imagine how this looks from afar, Swiss Cats. We could learn much from you and other more benevolent countries. Thank you for the purrs.

  7. Bernadette says:

    Society changes, and there has always been resistance, not organized because change is not an organized thing. A century ago our society moved from an agrarian culture to an industrial one in a relatively short time that changed our family and social structures, and overall we not only embraced it but we thrived, even facing some of the same issues of racism, immigration and poverty, and we’ve lived through an amazing century of progress. Now should be the time when we sit back to enjoy the fruits of those labors but instead we’ve turned our leisure time to things instead of knowledge, including of each other, and tried to stake out territories to define what we are. When did we stop talking?

    But if anyone had anything to say about “bad parenting” it wasn’t about any of the amazing teenagers who have eloquently stood up to speak on behalf of their own safety and the welfare of others. They may not have the scope of experience of adults, but they can communicate and it may be that they are finally the voices that are heard.

    I’m so sorry you will always have this memory so close to your home and your experience. <3

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for bringing up some excellent points Bernadette. We are a marvel of a country and yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful to just sit back a bit and enjoy it. These teenagers are so inspiring and I am overwhelmed with how well they are expressing themselves. The role models I’ve been yearning for are right here in my backyard.

  8. Linda says:

    Our granddaughter graduated from there just a year and a half ago, our grandson was on lock down in the elementary school.

    I am so impressed with the students who have been speaking out since this happened. I can only hope that their voices are heard.

    • Deb says:

      Oh gosh Linda, your grandson must have been terrified. Bless his little heart. I truly think these students are being heard and it’s quite extraordinary what they’re aiming to accomplish.

  9. Crystal says:

    Excellent points, Deb! I couldn’t agree more on how much society has changed, and how much that contributes to what we are seeing. I really strongly agree that changes need to start in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and communities. We live in a society that wants to blame institutions for all of our woes- the police, the school, the government- but when have any of us stopped to take a look at the first layer of a child’s world?? It seems that very few want to accept any responsibility, but just deflect and blame.

    I really don’t see the need for the type of weaponry- but I don’t think that is the entire solution- and I’m glad you brought up some real conversations that need to start happening. If we just look at other types of violence enacted on people over the past years- Boston Marathon bombing, the UHaul truck in NYC on Halloween- those that intend to hurt will find other means. While some immediate fixes need to be made- it’s not all just about guns. Our kids need a better world, one that starts within the home and extends beyond. It’s the tough conversations, and stepping up and being a parent- not just posting a selfie with your kid. It’s all about finding those who are hurting- and helping them to not become someone intent to hurt.

    • Deb says:

      You are so right, Crystal. It’s not just guns that kill people or enact violence. That is why family values and reevaluating the structure of our society is so important. It’s so easy to lay blame elsewhere, the hard part is taking responsibility and being part of the solution.

  10. It’s tough when it’s in your back yard. Pulse was less than a year and a half ago here, and there are still signs of it everywhere. I remember realizing that the rest of the country was reaching out the be supportive during that time, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. And I hope that people who live where you are feel that way now, too. <3

  11. Ellen Pilch says:

    Well written post. My thoughts and prayers are with these families. XO