It's not very often that we wake up and have a life-changing event occur. Maybe there's a handful in our life. One of these happened to a family 20 months ago, tragically, and led to the book, Ending School Shootings, which published this week and has a book signing in Denver on August 22. The other event happened quite obscurely 20 years ago and yet had an equally mesmerizing force of change. With both events, I would ask the reader to ponder what change looks like in their life -- and in our nation as well.
Twenty months ago, to the day, I was writing just like I am now: a 3a.m. - 8 a.m. grind that had a broken heart tied to it. You see, 20 months ago plus one day, a school shooting occurred with tragic results at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. One innocent young lady's life -- Claire Davis -- was taken from her family as a result of injuries from a troubled gunman who was a student at her school.
We have a problem as a nation. The love for guns, the love for violence, are fused together in a problematic weave that keeps creating tragedies. But all prose aside, this tragedy occurred because a young man acted out an inner hostility that led only to destruction for a fellow student's life and later suicide for himself as well.
I was coming home from work at a state level in Michigan that day and learned from the tragedy from a call to my wife. We both were very concerned. Who couldn't be? I wondered why someone in education had not spelled out the solutions to this crisis, "this epidemic" sooner.
I didn't sleep well that night. In fact I woke at just after midnight with a heavy heart. Over the next 32 days, from 3 a.m. often to 8 a.m. or so, I wrote the book, Ending School Shootings, and created a website for the book. I never anticipated that I would be a voice aiming for a national solution, but I guess my number in life came up.
The book is dedicated to Claire Esther Davis, her parents, extended family, friends, and loved ones. Let this be the last school shooting in America before we begin putting in place a national solution to end the epidemic of school shootings.
So far, the book has earned a number of accolades and recommends a strengths-based approach for working with every distressed, jaded, hurting, or off-balance young person (most often, it's a male) in schools. Accolades include the over three dozen national leaders and local leaders who endorsed the book. The complete list is at www.endingschoolshootings.org/praise.
I was honored during this time to connect with Dr. Brian Van Brunt, who wrote the page-turning book on prevention, Ending Campus Violence: New Approaches to Prevention. I also connected with Joseph A. Lieberman, who wrote the seminal book including lists of previous gun violence in our schools, School Shootings: What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children. Lastly, I networked with Mary Ellen O'Toole - a retired FBI Behavior Analysis Unit Officer renowned in the Columbine era for the text, School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective, and she gave an enthusiastic endorsement for the text. As a result, I am now a writer and reviewer for her journal, Violence and Gender.
But why get involved in all this?
I asked that question each night as I began writing. I wept about week into writing as Claire Davis -- the young lady who had been a student at Arapahoe High School -- passed away. My heart broke and so did many hearts in Colorado and across this nation. An outdoor memorial area is now at her school campus called Clarity Commons, and there is also a memorial fund called the Arapahoe High School Community Fund which was set up by her parents through the Denver Foundation.
Enough, enough, enough. We need a solution, or set of solutions, to the epidemic of school shootings in America. I then resolved to be a voice in this hurting area, to try to help in whatever way I could.
As a result of the book, I keynoted the first annual Post University conference, Building Resilience to Prevent Lethal School Violence, in May of 2015 in Waterbury, Connecticut, just 20 minutes from Newtown. Also, I began writing blog posts for the Huffington Post to get the word out about using strengths-based interventions with students who are distressed rather than submitting to fear. Lastly, I wrote a bill in Massachusetts which was sponsored by Paul Heroux (another Huffington Post blogger and also State Representative in Massachusetts) to have a strengths-based bullying prevention pilot.
But why is the rash of school shootings in America considered an epidemic. Who is bold enough to call a spade a spade?
Fifteen years ago was the time when the renowned journalist Dan Rather began using that term ("epidemic") as the CBS News anchor to define what the Columbine tragedy was for our nation, and what subsequent shootings were becoming.
So how many fatal school shootings were happening each year, back then?
Back in 1999 and from April (Columbine) onward, two fatal shootings occurred in schools (Columbine and Deming, NM). For the complete list of school shootings from Columbine onward, visit www.endingschoolshootings.org/shooting-list. Then in 2000 another four fatal school shootings occurred including the one by the youngest-ever school shooter, a six-year old student in Flint, Michigan. And in 2001, five fatal shootings occurred.
Do you know how many occurred in 2013? 15.
#60 January 15, 2013 (Hazard, Kentucky, 3 died)
#61 January 16, 2013 (Chicago, Illinois, 1 died)
#62 February 26 2013 (Conway, South Carolina, 1 died)
#63 March 18, 2013 (Orlando, Florida, 1 died)
#64 March 21, 2013 (Southgate, Michigan, 1 died)
#65 April 16, 2013 (Temple, Texas, 1 died)
#66 April 18, 2013 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2 died)
#67 June 7, 2013 (Santa Monica, California, 6 died)
#68 June 20, 2013 (West Palm Beach, Florida, 2 died)
#69 August 23, 2013 (Sardis, Mississippi, 1 died)
#70 September 28, 2013 (Gray, Maine, 1 died)
#71 October 15, 2013 (Austin, Texas, 1 died)
#72 October 21, 2013 (Sparks, Nevada, 2 died)
#73 November 26, 2013 (Rapid City, South Dakota, 1 died)
#74 December 13, 2013 (Centennial, Colorado, 2 died)
And 2014? 13.
#75 January 21, 2014 (West Lafayette, Indiana, 1 died)
#76 January 24, 2014 (Orangeburg, South Carolina, 1 died)
#77 January 26, 2014 (Los Angeles, California, 1 died)
#78 February 20, 2014 (Raytown, Missouri, 1 died)
#79 April 11, 2014 (Detroit, Michigan, 1 died)
#80 April 21, 2014 (Griffith, Indiana, 1 died)
#81 May 23 (Isla Vista, California, 7 died)
#82 June 5, 2014 (Seattle, Washington, 1 died)
#83 June 10, 2014 (Troutdale, Oregon, 2 died)
#84 October 3, 2014 (Fairburn. Georgia, 1 died)
#85 October 24, 2014 (Marysville, Washington, 5 died)
#86 November 20, 2014 (Miami, Florida, 1 died)
#87 December 5, 2014 (Claremore, Oklahoma, 1 died)
And in 2015, so far (we have four months to go).
#88 February 5, 2015 (Columbia, South Carolina 2 died)
#89 April 13, 2015 (Goldsboro, North Carolina 1 died)
#90 May 12, 2015 (Tempe, Arizona 1 died)
Are school shootings on the rise? I will let you be the judge. But remember that even one shooting is one too many. So whether increasing, staying the same or decreasing, it is still a crisis needing a solution or set of solutions.
President Obama wisely said on a Tumblr Chat after the 83rd school shooting at Reynold's High School in Troutdale Oregon that we as a nation have a problem. He stated:
We're the only developed country on earth where this happens, and it happens now once a week. ...I mean, our levels of gun violence are off the charts, there's no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.
The naysayers are already looking at my lists and sharpening their acrid words of criticism to say that perhaps suicides should not be included even though they often involve multiple fatalities. Or these pundits are scheming that possibly a stabbing and shooting event is askew with the cumulative list.
But how do we really solve the problem of lethal school violence -- and how has Dan Rather helped me, and us as a nation, to approach this problem?
Dan Rather has set his career, a lifetime in journalism in pursuit of the truth. This even meant reporting hard news of wars and historic times of peace. It also meant putting his dreams on the line -- a choice that cost him his position at CBS News, but not his integrity.
Who couldn't listen when such a profound mind -- a giant in journalism -- speaks? And I had the honor of meeting him once in 1995. 20 years ago.
I was in my first teaching job in the South Pacific on the small island of Tinian. That's the same island where the Enola Gay had taken off in 1945 and dropped the historic bomb on Hiroshima. Another plane also took off from the same runways in Tinian and catastrophically bombed Nagasaki, but the war was ended and we are now remembering the 70th anniversaries right now.
But back in 1995, it was the 50th anniversary that was on the table and Dan was getting the scoop with General Norman Schwarzkopf. They arrived that the Tinian airport in a blaze of islanders - you know a gigantic group of about 30 people on our tiny island. But I was there that day. Why?
You see, I was a journalism teacher that year at Tinian High School. My incredibly strategic first principal, Mr. James Wedding -- whom I still keep in touch with -- assigned me the job of publishing the school's first hard cover yearbook and then teaching journalism. He is a lifelong educator and courageous former veteran as well. These days, I often catch myself reflecting on how many things Jim taught me in life.
With my solid math background, I quaked initially, but I love writing. I always have. And so teaching kids to love something came easy.
Twenty years ago, plus a few months (April 1995) was the day I met Dan Rather. It was a when I went to the airport to drop off an article that one of my awesome students had written about her time on a US aircraft carrier that had docked near Tinian. It was an awesome experience for her and I was glad to have given up my ticket to see the carrier so she could go.
You don't often take pictures when a life changing experience occurs, but instead just live on and later look back with thankfulness.
So, I was headed to the airport to air-post the article to the neighboring larger island of Saipan so it could be published in a newspaper. What an awesome feat for a student!
And there was something else. I had a hand-written letter that day for General Norman Schwarzkopf. I'd actually written a letter the previous night while planning my lessons for the week. Somehow I knew I would meet him the next day. And I gave that letter to Norman when I met him and Dan.
Lorem, ibsum,... (it was a personal letter)
Signed, A resident in Tinian
Yes, it was a personal letter and I did not even sign it. The same message of thanks was intended for Dan though meeting him was a bigger surprise.
And so here we are in 2015. Meeting Dan Rather in 1995 ignited and fueled my passion for writing. It also made me intent to hear his words just after Columbine when he labeled schools shootings as an "epidemic."
And now it is time to work to end that epidemic.
Thank you, Dan, for leading the way for us as a country towards ending the epidemic of school shootings. We have a ways to go, but I appreciate that I got my start from you.
In Dan's fully-engaging, all-hands-on-deck memoir, Rather Outspoken, he speaks words that shed volumes of light on this article and on my mission to help stop school shootings in America. He wrote, "Funny how sometimes bring things in a kind of circle." p. 304.
For Dan, his time of understanding life's circularity came quite recently. It was in starting the media event of his career, Dan Rather Presents, under the astute guidance and support of Mark Cuban and Executive Producer Wayne Nelson.
And for me, the time is just starting. Again, thank you Dan!
Jonathan J. Doll, PhD, wrote the book, Ending School Shootings. The book is dedicated to the courageous student, Claire Davis, and all proceeds from the first two months of sales are being donated to three charities, including the Arapahoe High School Community Fund, the Sandy Hook Promise, and in Michigan the Alma Stallworth Scholarship Foundation Fund. For more information, visit http://www.endingschoolshootings.org/ESS-Promotion.