Today, It Was Roseburg

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Roseburg school shooting

At 11 a.m. this morning I was driving around doing errands when I heard a news report that brought tears to my eyes.  “A mass shooting has been reported at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Several fatalities have been reported and many more injuries are expected,” said the rumbling voice.  I can remember a time when these kinds of reports seemed so unusual, remarkable even.  I was a freshman at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia in 1999 when the on-campus shootings at Columbine occurred. At the time, this incident was noteworthy, because the violence exemplified there was so rare.  Back then, we were able to tell ourselves that it couldn’t happen to us, that it was an isolated incident. 

But the fact is, it can happen to us at any time.  In 2007, I was a middle school teacher in Blacksburg on April 16 when, over the course of a few hours, a gunman took the Virginia Tech campus hostage, killing 32 students and faculty before turning the gun on himself. During the shooting, Blacksburg schools were put on lockdown while we all waited in terror to find out what had happened. My students and I crouched under tables with the lights off as reports of the deaths trickled in. We then spent years reeling from the collateral damage. 

On that day, some of my students lost their friends, some lost their parents, and all lost their innocence. They, along with the rest of Blacksburg, lost the belief that they were safe. Years later, my eighth grade students who were tiny preschoolers in 2007 told me they still had trouble shaking the sense of fear they felt on April 16.  As a teacher, April 16 was the first time I felt the panic that I might be powerless to keep my students safe if someone decided to harm them.  In the days and years following the shooting, our community rallied and attempted to bring some good from the tragedy, including lobbying for changes to gun laws and mental health policies. But we shouldn’t have had to. The victims should have come home from work or school and gone on with their lives, eating dinner, coaching soccer, or studying for finals. My students who lost their parents should have been allowed to hug mom or dad goodnight or argue over chores like the normal children who they will never be again.

I would like to say that the Virginia Tech massacre was such an isolated incident that it became remarkable, but it preceded another 40 school shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

These incidents show that something is broken in our society. Some people blame guns, while others blame the perpetrators’ sick minds or troubled childhoods.  I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but at the root of it all is the fact that we have forgotten that we belong to each other. We have forgotten to take care of each other, and we have taught ourselves to put a distance between us and our fellow human beings. 

I have witnessed firsthand that it is possible for a community to pick itself up and move forward in spite of its broken heart.  I will also tell you that once a heart has been broken like that, it is never the same. After the tragedy, the Hokie community in Blacksburg was flooded by gestures of support from all over the world (including cards, banners, video messages, and trinkets), and though they were small, they helped us feel less alone, like we were being embraced by strangers we might never meet. 

Tomorrow, the people of Roseburg will try to pick themselves up and move forward to live their lives for those whose lives were lost.  If you can’t reach out to the Roseburg community, reach out to your own, because just as a wound to one of us hurts us all, the smallest act of kindness toward someone else helps us all heal.  

The responsibility for preventing these kinds of senseless violence lies with all of us.  Our children should be able to get on the school bus knowing that they will return home safe and sound.  Our college students should be able to focus on learning algorithms and balancing school with a social life, secure that the future they are striving to build will be theirs someday.  Yesterday it was Blacksburg; today it is Roseburg.  Please, please, let’s work to make it so that tomorrow is free of this kind of evil and pain.

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Aside from being a writer, Kendra is a Birth Trauma Doula at KarysMa Birth, where she helps moms find their joy after birth trauma. A former middle school English and theatre teacher, she has an insatiable love for learning and a flair for the dramatic. Among the best moments of her life, she counts marrying her husband Steve during a dream rainbow wedding, planning a princess picnic on the beach with her eight year old daughter Karys, giving birth to her one year old daughter Saryn in the middle of a blizzard, and sitting on stage with Glennon Doyle. A Navy brat for the first 13 years of her life, Kendra settled in Virginia for eighteen years before she was finally ready to move again, relocating to Portland in 2014. You can find her work on Portland Moms Blog, The La Leche League Blog, and The Not Your Average Mom Project, as well as the hard drive of her computer.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I was having very similar thoughts this morning after hearing about this tragedy. There is something broken in our society. I don’t know if gun control is the answer, but I doubt it is all of the answer. Where has our community connection gone that makes it so these people feel so unconnected to those around then, or so angry that they could do this. It is so frustrating and scary to think my kids are more attending school in a country where this is so prevalent and even if they are safe, that so many people have faced this kind of loss and trauma.

  2. What a beautiful and powerful message. Today left so many folks somewhat at a loss for words, thank you for sharing.

    I’m a fellow former East Coaster, mom, and blogger, and also a volunteer for the Oregon chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gunsense. I will share this piece with others- it’s terrific!

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