MONIQUE BATSON — School shootings don’t surprise as once before

Published 12:05 am Friday, October 8, 2021

The minute I learned in 2012 that there had been a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, I immediately turned on the news and watched as a line of young children walked out of an unsafe building.

As if they were going to the restroom, they were in a single-file line holding onto the shoulders of the child ahead of them. But unlike a trip to recess, they were crying with unforgettable looks of horror on their tiny faces. And instead of being escorted by their teacher, they were led away by a state police officer.

At that moment, then-Ridgewood Elementary Principal (now PNGISD deputy superintendent) Julie Gauthier read my mind. My phone went off to a school-wide message from her that said: “In the wake of the news from CT, I want to let you know that your child’s safety is of our upmost concern. We promise to keep them safe at RW!”

I had two there, one at Port Neches Elementary, and one at Port Neches Middle School.

For the next week, as I dropped my four kids off at their respective schools, seeing police officers at the front doors was as comforting as it was unsettling.

But by then school shootings had, unfortunately, become a daily worry. And no one of any age deserves to be a victim of such a heinous act. But to know tiny kids still learning how to spell their names were hiding in closets and under the arms of their teachers seemed absolutely unreal.

It was a few years later than I was having trouble getting a door to close when my youngest child, then in 5th grade, fixed it by finding a metal pole and securing it under the knob. While all of my children are intelligent, this burst of ingenuity from an otherwise shy and quiet child surprised me.

“How did you know to do that?” I asked.

“They taught us in school,” he said.

And at that moment, getting hit by a ton of bricks would have felt better than understanding why.

That child was in kindergarten at the time of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. He had lived his entire life preparing for the possibility. He wasn’t expressing a sudden burst of genius; he knew how to bar the classroom door closed. And as shocked and as saddened as I was by that reality, I was and have forever been grateful to our local school districts for having a plan and preparing our children.

It’s not something I ever learned in school. The Columbine High School massacre happened a month before I graduated.

In 2018 on a day in May, the PNG baseball team played Santa Fe High School. My now-19-year-old was on the photojournalism staff at the time and photographed the game. A week later, their pitcher was shot in the head at his school not far from here.

He and 12 other shooting victims survived; 10 did not. I don’t know how many children injured or killed by gunfire that day had been caught living a great summer day on that camera just a week before.

Perhaps it comes with being a parent, but there’s something about knowing children are so often the victims of gun violence that is gut-wrenching. In the two mass shootings I’ve covered, there was a teenage victim in each. One survived (but was paralyzed); one did not. In a matter of seconds two teenagers with goals and dreams went from going about their lives to having it all senselessly taken from them. And those who suffer from the shot aren’t the only victims. Everyone near them and anyone with empathy suffers too.

So Wednesday when I glanced at the computer and saw there had been a second shooting at a Texas school this month, my first thought should not have been: “Again?”

Yet it was.

And why did it happen? Because some kids got into an argument and one decided to pull out a gun like it was something you pack every day with your notebooks and pencils?

I have only two kids left in public school — a freshman and a junior. The knowledge that even after these shootings they still aren’t safe haunts me.

The two teenagers from the shootings I covered as a journalist weren’t at school on those days. One was at a car dealership; one was at the Jefferson County Courthouse. My opinions on gun rights won’t change this, and neither will yours.

I can only hope, when my children are my age, they don’t look at the news to see there’s been another school shooting and think: “Again?”

 

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor and can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.