I just watched German student Erin Sheehan recount the horrific minutes she spent playing dead on the floor of her classroom to save her own life. What is horrifying is the apparent methodical calm demeanor of the shooter. I didn't plan to revisit the Virginia Tech story today in such a way, but her words affected me. Statements from a lovely and articulate young woman who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - and had the wherewithal to somehow survive. Here are excerpts from her interview. Imagine this brave student's predicament, if you will. Her words are unimaginable.""I was in my German class, my 9am German class today when the shooter came in and shot almost the whole class."
"He peeked in twice...earlier in the class...but then he came in eventually later and he just stepped in within five feet of the door and just started firing...he seemed very thorough about it...getting almost everyone down. He left for about thirty seconds, came back in and did almost exactly the same thing because I guess he heard us still talking...
And this is the most horrifying thought for me.
"We forced ourselves against the door so he couldn't come in again because the door would not lock."
It wouldn't LOCK?!
"He came and tried to force himself in another three times and just started shooting through the door. "
This is every teacher's nightmare. I remember one day during my career, we had a mock lockdown on campus - for a split second I could not locate my keys. Teachers are required to go out into the hall, lock the door, calm the kids and get them to a designated place of safety in the room in a matter of seconds. When I opened my middle desk drawer I didn't immediately see them and thought they weren't there; then I saw them sticking out from under a piece of paper. A few seconds seemed like an eternity. I never forgot that feeling and I never made that mistake again. In fact, I learned to check and double-check throughout the day or have them on my person at all times.
Apparently, in this situation, keys wouldn't have helped. But the drill at my school did help me to experience and realize the enormity of responsibility and make changes in my daily habits as a teacher - just in case.
I wonder how the German professor felt at that moment with such an unexpected horror cruelly thrown his way - and a class full of people depending on his judgment. That teacher's name is Christopher James Bishop,
35 years old - and the first to die in his classroom. Known as a "gentle and generous man" his wife taught in the same department. Surely, one of the brightest and best in our nation.
Since Columbine in 1999, schools have implemented safety measures but is it ever really enough? We can't be prepared for every situation and every nightmare. There ARE things we can do, however, such as being vigilant about lockdown drills until they become as run-of-the-mill as fire drills have become. Students and teachers need to know what to expect, where to go, what to do and need to practice it. Otherwise, panic will prevail as judgments wane under stress. Unfortunately, locked doors or not, this disturbed young man was determined to have his way.
I found myself looking through the profiles of the victims this morning. They range in age from eighteen to seventy-six.
The latter was instructor Liviu Librescu, an Israeli engineering and math lecturer who died protecting his students as the gunman tried to enter the classroom.
Procedures and technicalities and non-working keyholes aside, one thing is certain.
The door to dialogue must never be closed or we run the risk of permanently locking away any hope of change. Not just conversation about drills and practiced scenarios, but more importantly, how one young man could walk among thousands of people everyday, screaming as loudly as he could - and not be heard.
You can read the whole CNN story HERE.