Too close to home…just slowly getting too close. #nomore

I am worried, I am numb, and I am starting to worry more each day…there is a possibility it could happen here in Anderson. This is one of the most unpleasant, unsettling, and helpless feelings I have had in a long time.

Each day I drop off Rosebud at Calhoun Academy for the Arts, I drop her off with a feeling of empowerment, excitement, and joy knowing that she is being cared for, educated, loved, and empowered. Each day, my worry grows and that worry is slowly creeping into, intersecting those feelings of comfort; creeping into the knowing she is getting a quality education in a safe space. I want them to go away!

Where are the safe spaces?

Each day, each school shooting, each mass shooting, I get a little more scared worrying that it could happen…here. Yes…here in Anderson, SC.

As I watched another round of images from media outlets fill the daily news cycle showcasing a parents worst fears; children running from the school they trusted…invaded by a person who felt the need to hurt those inside. Each parent who sees these images feels invaded, feel perpetrated, feels a little more apprehensive of the security in their child’s school.

When I drop Rosebud off each morning, I try to document moments in my mind. I watch her in the rear view mirror as we pull into the parking lot. I see the anticipation and excitement in her face as she gets ready to start her day. I help her unbuckle the five point harness in her car seat. I watch her grab her book bag, watch those curls bounce around as she jumps out the car. I watch her open the door, climb out, and turn back to smile as we say goodbye. I tell her I love her as the car door shuts…and I hold one more second to see if she looks back over her shoulder to give me a smile. I watch her…I watch her walk away knowing for the next seven hours, I cannot protect her.

I love that little human!

I have seen some scary events in my life. I was a photojournalist who worked all over the country covering some of the most treacherous and disturbing local, regional, and national news stories. I was one of the first photojournalists to arrive on the scene of the Conyers school shooting May 20, 1999.

These are pictures from the first school shooting I ever covered as a journalist. These are the only two pictures I have showing where we were doing live shots for CBS News the day after all the kids had gone home and the dust had settled. I worked this story with a host of local, regional, and national journalists. This is Conyers High School in Conyers, Georgia where six kids were shot..

I remember hoping into a helicopter, flying to the scene, arriving with mass chaos surrounding. For me…this was the beginning. It was just a month after I sat in a newsroom watching the events unfold at Columbine, watching the unedited video content come down on the national news feeds…it was my first taste of what I would spend the better part of my adult journalistic career watching unfold in-front of my camera. 

Since Columbine, there have been 208 school shootings including Parkland.

I worry I have a mild case of PTSD stemming from the images I have witnessed first hand of all the shootings unfold, the dead bodies being covered in-front of my eyes, interviews with loved ones who have lost to a horrific crime; images of scars captured in my camera, in my mind, in my heart of victims lying in hospital beds. There are so many, so many, that I have lost count in my mind…it was just part of the job. I am scared…they will become my reality.

These are my prayers. The prayer for these images to go elsewhere.

These images not only stay with you, but make you pray each day for the safety of the people you love. I have witnessed the propensity of the human psyche, and I pray those images I have both captured and watched are pushed further back in my mind, further away from the reality I live each day. I hope these images stay memories and never intersect with the ones I love the most. 

I pray hard! I pray each time Sarah does not answer the phone. I pray each time I drop Rose off for school. I pray each time I see an ambulance race past me. I pray each time…each time I am reminded of the stories from my past.

A few months before Columbine happened, I was working on a project with our investigative team. We were exploring the idea of school safety, specifically how far a perpetrator could get inside a school without being stopped. It was 1998, hidden camera technology was still emerging in the consumer market for journalists to leverage in their coverage. We were able to wire a hidden camera on a reporter who looked like an everyday mom, recording her movements and point-of-view as she walked around.

We took her to three schools to see how far she could walk around inside the campus. Each school, she was able to make it past the front desk, without signing in, walking the school halls where children were in class, passing by children going to lunch, eventually able to make it back out of the school without being asked her purpose and if she had identification. We were disturbed from this outcome. We performed this test in three schools with the outcome the same in each campus. The imagery was disturbing. Our imaginations went in so many different directions, that imagination became a reality when we covered Conyers. Those images became a reality when we watched Columbine. Those images haunt me.

Each time I go to Calhoun Academy for the Arts to have lunch with Rosebud, each time I walk into the school, I think about that project. I think about those images as I am being buzzed into the front door. I do not know the security plan or what a lockdown looks like for Rosebud; I just know she takes part in active shooter drills. I learn about these drills after they happen, when she comes home sharing stories of the experience. She tells me about the drills like it is so normal with little or no concern. In some ways, I am comforted she does not understand the magnitude of these drills. I hope and pray her practice will only stay practice.

This Valentines week, we have been surrounded by this conversation. On the very day another mass school shooting happens in Florida, we watch the aftermath of a previous school shooting last year in Townville, SC unfold through testimony downtown in the Anderson County Courthouse.

It…is…getting…closer…too close for comfort.

It is creeping closer and closer to my family and it scares me to death. I feel powerless. I am squeamish as I watch the national conversation explode again, so many pointing fingers, so much more divide, where is the progress. What is the plan to keep my family safe, my Rosebud safe?

I fear this parents’ worst nightmare is starting to get closer to home and I am not sure what to do to stop it.