That Time My High School Teacher Was Shot in Class

It’s been ten months since I have written about gun violence in America.  Nothing has changed. There are still shootings, still deaths, still indignation about freedom and rights, still dithering, cowardly politicians.  The numbers are staggering.

STAGGERING, people.  265 mass shootings in 2015.  559 children under the age of eleven killed by guns in the past 279 days of 2015 — that is two children a day.  Over 10,000 deaths in 2015 alone.  More people have died from gun shot wounds in America since 1968 than in every American war casualty to date.  Truth.

Let those numbers just sink in and stagger you for a moment.

I am at a loss. I sit here, behind a keyboard, watching neighbors go about their day from my front window, listening to my toddler play in the background.  I should feel safe, and yet, I don’t. The NRA would have me go buy myself a pretty little pistol to increase my (false) sense of security.  They trade on our fear and are profiting quite nicely from it right now.

The situation feels surreal to me.  I can’t grasp or understand it anymore.  It was not like this when I was a child.  It was not like this when I was a teen.  A teacher was shot at my high school when I was a student there, and I did not feel this level of fear or concern.

When that shooting occurred in March, 1986 I was a junior at Thornridge High School in Chicago’s south suburbs.  A freshman, a boy I did not know, shot my former math teacher, Miss Norma Cooper.  I read the archived AP account of the event and my jaw drops.

After the shooting, Miss Cooper ”left the room, went across the hall to another room and called our youth officer, Jack Thomsen,” who works at the school, [Dolton Police Chief] Pfotenhauer said.

Meanwhile, a math teacher in an adjoining room, who heard the shot, rushed to Miss Cooper’s room and led the 22 other students into another room, said District 205 School Superintendent Jack Curless.

When Thomsen arrived, the boy ”had the gun in his hand at the back of the room,” Pfotenhauer said.

Thomsen then persuaded him to surrender.

The boy was taken into custody and charged, and was to be held in a youth home in Chicago, Pfotenhauer said.

”It was a little bit of a drama at first,” but teachers were able to calm the students and classes returned to normal shortly after the shooting, the police chief said.

“Classes returned to normal shortly after the shooting.” “It was a little bit of a drama at first.”

Miss Norma Cooper, c. 1985.  She never returned to our school, no mention was ever made in the yearbook.  A school shooting swept under the carpet.
Miss Norma Cooper, c. 1985. She never returned to our school, no mention was ever made in the yearbook. A school shooting swept under the carpet.

I know those sentences to be accurate because I was there.  Truth be told, I barely remember the incident.  As students we were encouraged not to speak to the press.  We were assured that our teacher survived and was safe, then, in all honesty, we just went on with our day.

In 1986, there was no protocol to address a school shooting.  There was no culture that normalized school shootings, indicating just how to respond.  There were no lock down drills. There were no statistics to update.  The shooter did not have a manifesto to ensure his notoriety.  He did not martyr himself or attempt to take out as many people as he could.

In 1986 you had a very, very disturbed kid mad about being suspended and taking his security officer father’s gun to school in his backpack to shoot a teacher.  He surrendered his gun and was tried as a juvenile.

Those were, apparently, the salad days of school shootings.

And that is the reality we exist in as Americans today.  I can now wax poetic and tell my children that when I was a kid I didn’t need to walk through a metal detector in my school lobby.  When I was a kid and a fellow student shot their teacher, the teacher lived and I went on to my next class.  When I was a kid we had tornado drills, not intruder drills.

It turns my stomach.

The shooting of my math teach, Miss Cooper, happened just a few months shy of thirty years ago now. America’s dangerous and growing obsession with guns has occurred during that time.  I don’t know exactly how or when, but the unholy obsession is now palpable.

People across the world mock us. The NRA ensures our politicians actively work to keep researchers from studying the impact of gun violence.  Twenty first graders are methodically gunned down in their classroom and we wring our hands, wondering if we should do something to address the matter.  We blame the mentally ill, the gangs, the Christian haters.

Fuck that noise.

We are sick, America, dying from indifference and pride and irrationality.  Guns are acting as a cancer that is not responding to the weak chemotherapy of public outcry that sprouts up with every new mass shooting.  We tell ourselves it is them, the black or the poor or the mentally ill or the criminal, that have the problem.  We cling to the idea of a constitutional right being more important than life and liberty. We argue that there is nothing to be done, no way to solve this dilemma.  Stuff happens, right?

We have lost our way and we are dying because of it.  Our consternation is pathetic.  I am ashamed of some of us.  I fear for all of us.

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