Wakeup call: Those school shootings all over the news? They could easily happen here, and we are in denial

December print issue 2019

On Nov. 14, there was a school shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita that led to the deaths of three students, including the perpetrator. It was the most recent of 45 American school shootings this year as of Nov. 19, according to CNN.

Since 1999, when the Columbine shooting happened, American students have become strangely accustomed to school shootings. While they obviously have a tremendous effect on us as students, the school shootings are often dismissed soon after they happen. Only a month after the shooting, we’ve all but forgotten about Saugus High School. We can’t afford emotional catharsis every time there’s a mass shooting because they happen too often. For this reason, it’s easy to brush off this most recent shooting, saying that, although this was a sad incident, it is unlikely to happen here. Life goes on. But the Saugus High School shooting should be a wake-up call for all of us. 

Our Bay Area bubble feels peaceful. Burlingame and Hillsborough are suburban towns where people know their neighbors, let their kids play in front yards and walk to school alone. It seems too sheltered, too happy, too safe for something as tragic as a shooting to take place here. 

But that’s what we thought before our school was tagged with racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti. A few weeks before the vandalism incident there was a secure campus shutdown addressing a threat to campus. Though no harm was done in the end, the first thought in many people’s minds was, “This is it. This is a shooting. We read about it, and now it’s us.” Classroom doors were locked, parents were hurriedly texted and for those 20 or so minutes, some students felt as though they could be faced with the possibility of death. 

In reality, we didn’t have a lockdown. It was just a secure campus procedure, a safety precaution following an anonymous alert with the possibility of a threat. We were supposed to continue on learning, with locked doors and windows, but the words “this is not a drill” have a different effect on American schoolchildren now. A potential threat became a looming threat stuck in the back of our minds. Then, just as quickly as the drill began, we were told to continue to our next class, and within the hour our heads were clear. Kids who experienced very real fear so recently laughed it off as paranoia and stupidity. The “it couldn’t be us” mentality returned.

The secure campus procedure was the first realization for many of us that just because our community is sheltered, it doesn’t mean we are necessarily safe. The subsequential vandalism just weeks later was an eye-opening realization that these incidents do happen here. Though not as extreme as a shooting, students were left scared and threatened. The vandalism temporarily burst our Bay Area bubble and was an eye-opening experience in which we realized that hate crimes reach us even near San Francisco, a city seemingly built upon peace and acceptance. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which sparked much of the current activism against gun violence in our generation, took place in Parkland, Florida, an affluent, wealthy community. Additionally, Santa Clarita is another relatively wealthy community in which a shooting has taken place recently. The similarities between these two communities and Burlingame is frightening. A school shooting can happen anywhere and the wealth of the area will not protect us. 

We need to understand that the possibility of a shooting is real. What happened at Saugus High School could just as easily happen here. Our community needs to unite in order to protect ourselves from the hate-fueled crimes that are prevailing in the United States. We need to be conscious of the environment we are living in.