This is America — Where Kids are Left to Fend for Themselves

The 21 victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting. (Photo/San Antonio Express-News)

By Nicole Ardila/ Opinion Director 

I hid inside a cabinet during a lockdown drill in middle school. I was taught to stay covered, quiet and turn off my phone until a shooter leaves school grounds. If this is the proper way, then why are hundreds of kids still dying at school?

This has become the “normal” reality for my generation. 

My entire life, I’ve watched terrified children run out of their schools on the news. The words “school shooting” or “children killed” automatically trigger goosebumps all over my body and form knots in my throat. 

Last Tuesday, parents and families in Uvalde, Tex. were struck with heartbreak once they found out that their children would not be coming home after being shot to death at school. 

Nineteen children and two adults were killed. 

For K-12 students, summer vacation is about to begin in June. Kids were looking forward to playing with their friends, traveling to see their families and simply having fun. 

But once again, the future is taken away from young innocent children who happened to attend school on the wrong day. 

Since Columbine in 1999, school shootings in the U.S. have only gotten deadlier, with a total of 185 lives taken and 369 people injured. More than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence. 

So how many more until kids aren’t traumatized? When is it enough?

I grew up here in South Florida these past two decades and was “trained” to hide and protect myself against an intruder.

On Dec. 14, 2012, I was in the 5th grade. We were excited since it was a few days away from winter break until a gunman killed 20 kids and six teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary school. 

I was probably too young to empathize with victims of such a violent tragedy, but as an American student, it impacted me for the rest of my life. 

On Feb. 14, 2018, I was in the 10th grade. Everyone was looking forward to going on their Valentine’s dates until a gunman murdered 14 kids and three staff members in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

This time the anger pushed me to become vocal.

When the Parkland shooting occurred, my school took precautions such as locking all the classrooms and entrances. They even made assemblies to explain the consequences of threats, whether written, verbal, or online. That didn’t stop anyone since we had to stay home one day after getting a bomb threat written on the bathroom wall.  

We’d have frequent lockdown drills where the entire class would hide behind the teacher’s desk, and block the window with a black sheet of paper so the shooter wouldn’t see inside. 

Some drills felt real, where students weren’t warned prior and we’d run in fear into the classrooms and hear banging on the doors, thinking there was an actual intruder on campus. 

We were also taught to turn off our phones, not allowed to text our parents so they don’t intervene in a real situation.

I remember thinking if a text or voicemail would be better to say goodbye to my family, to prepare in case a shooting did happen.

Why did I have to plan out an emergency? My only job should’ve been studying and my teachers’ only jobs should’ve been educating us. 

Shouldn’t our law enforcement and government be the ones to protect schools? 

This generation is tired of the thoughts and prayers from our lawmakers to the victims and their families. We are tired of every mass shooting being swept under the rug a week later. Politicians need to let go of the act of sympathy, there is no end in sight for mass shootings here in the U.S. 

While there are many problems that lead up to these tragic events, a pattern we keep picking up is the combination of AR-15 guns and mental health issues. 

18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos was bullied as a child and had family dysfunction. He showed signs of violent behavior, such as cutting his own face with a knife for fun, throwing dead cats at houses, firing a BB gun at random people and threatening to rape girls. Ramos even told a friend once that he wanted to join the Marines so he’d “be able to kill people”. 

And just like Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland high school shooter, Ramos posted photos of his rifles and threats to kill on social media. 

Gunman Salvador Ramos posts his two semi-automatic rifles on Instagram. (Photo/NY Post)

In this country, we fail to report suspicious activity online. We fail to take action. 30 people knew about Cruz’s troubling behavior and many of Ramos’ friends knew about his firearm possessions. 

I understand why Americans would want a gun for protection and defense, but assault rifles and military weapons should be banned and never in the hands of a regular civilian. Better yet, if 18-year-olds can’t legally purchase alcohol, then they most definitely should not be able to purchase a firearm. 

President Biden promised he’d implement stricter federal laws on guns, background checks, and mental health services. But the number of school shootings has reached its highest-ever number in 2021, the year he took office. 

Background checks need to be unavoidable. Security must be improved in schools, whether it’s more armed guards, metal detectors at every entrance, or bulletproof doors. Officials need to pay better attention to threats online. But there is no doubt violence and mental instability is purely responsible for all this.

So instead, ask why. Why do mass murders keep occurring and how can we prevent this

Stop ignoring mental illness and treat it. And every threat, like one on our own FIU BBC campus, should be held accountable immediately. 

Perhaps if Ramos was counseled for being bullied, this could’ve been prevented. Perhaps if his online threats were taken seriously, or if assault rifles were banned, this could’ve been prevented. 

But it’s too late because no one did anything even with all the signs leading up to a disaster. 

These little kids witnessed their friends get murdered in front of them, now they’re traumatized for life. It’s difficult, but it’s time we put our politics aside and come together for once for the sake of saving lives and preventing another tragedy like this. 

The number of kids killed, their names and their faces are engraved in my mind. It could’ve been me or you. 

If I was fortunate enough to survive K-12, then the least I can do is make an effort in making a change so our generations and future ones can live in peace. Can you?


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of the PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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