Another school shooting.
My first thought was: Not again.
Then my mind went back to the first school shooting I remember.
I was in 11th grade at Downsville Central School. A friend and I were heading into the guidance office at school. The radio was on, tuned to WDLA. The folks in the office were quiet, listening to a breaking news report. We stopped to listen as well.
A shooting had taken place Walton High School.
A 10th-grade student shot his English teacher in the face with a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle.
We all were shocked. Word spread, and the incident became the talk of our school. Some of our students knew him.
We later learned two students, one our former classmate, tackled the shooter. The teacher recovered. Jason Hodge pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, and he was placed in a “residential facility” to be “diagnosed.”
There were signs of his mental instability. A week before the shooting, he showed friends his violent plans in a poem he was working on for his English class. He had been kicked out of the teacher’s classroom several times after confrontations with her.
Just a few weeks later, a girl who had been a good friend of mine in elementary school killed her boyfriend in Hancock. Jenna-Lynn Safanda pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter.
Both incidents took place just a few months after a 14-year-old girl stabbed her boyfriend to death in New Berlin. April Dell’Olio used a temporary insanity defense, and was sentenced to five years of therapy. She was eventually released from a mental hospital in 2016.
This was also around the time the Long Island Lolita became infamous. Amy Fisher pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated assault and served seven years in prison after severely injuring her lover’s wife by shooting her in the head.
I was working at my high school newspaper at the time. I wrote an editorial about all the violence. It was unheard of — that much violence in such a short time in our corner of the world.
Fast forward about six years. As I came into work, someone asked, “Did you hear about the school shooting in Colorado?”
The Daily Star staff was glued to the television, learning about the massacre at Columbine High School. Two students killed a dozen students and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves.
There were scattered shootings in the next dozen or so years. Then came Sandy Hook. A mentally ill man entered an elementary school and targeted 6- and 7-year-old children, killing 20 of them and six of their teachers.
School shootings continued. In most, one or two people were injured or killed.
Then came Parkland, Florida, just 10 days ago. A former student gunned down 17 people with a semi-automatic rifle; 14 others were injured.
Just last week, at least local four schools reported threats.
One of those threats was in my children’s school — the school where I drop off my 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son each morning with a “Be good. Have a good day in school.”
It is the same school where I heard about the Walton shooting 25 years before.
Luckily the threat wasn’t deemed credible. A fellow student heard what was likely a stupid remark by another teen and reported it to his parent. That parent posted about it on Facebook, intending to contact the school in the morning. A staff member reported it to the administration first thing, and it was immediately investigated.
As it should be.
When I was in school, there was wide access to guns. There was bullying. There were mental health issues. There was bad parenting. There was also violence. But the threat of violence didn’t seem to permeate the school, as it does now.
When I was in school, members of the public could walk through any door and wander the school any time school was in session. Now access is generally limited to one door that is locked at all times except as the school day starts.
When I was in school, we had fire drills. Now schools have active shooter/lock-down drills.
Susan Murphy, an English teacher at Oneonta High School, said some students came into school the day after the Parkland shooting scared and exhausted. She went over the protocol for an active shooter; the students replied “we know.”
“Over the past 20 years I’ve gone from ‘glad it wasn’t us,’ to ‘it could have been us,’ to ‘when will it be us?’” Murphy said.
We all hope the answer is never.
I hope “Be good. Have a good day in school” is not the last thing I say to my children.
But hope works as well as thoughts and prayers. They can comfort, but they can’t prevent another attack. Only action can.
Denielle Ziemba is the assistant editor of The Daily Star. She can be reached at (607) 432-7259 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_DenielleZ.