It has been six years since a student brought a gun to Philip Barbour High School and held a classroom full of kids and their teacher hostage. I can still see how it lives inside of everyone who has had to come into the building since then, attempting to find safety and comfort where it was once stolen.
A code red last year found my English class away from our room, reading a play in a bigger common area. Without a way to lock the door, my teacher didn’t want us to wait out the alarm there. She told us to run, as fast as we could, down the hall to her classroom. Once there, she pointed out how she kept filing cabinets near the door that we could use to block it. We didn’t know that this wasn’t just a drill, but she instructed us to go out the windows at the first sign of trouble. As it turns out, the code was because another student had fled the building — we were just being kept out of the way.
This teacher is the sister of Twila Smith, who was trapped in that classroom six years ago. She remembers how they did move filing cabinets in front of the door while they waited to be led out of the school.
My friend’s mother has the classroom a few doors down from the one we ran to. She told her that when she heard the pounding, it sent her into a panic. It’s the sound she heard as police filled the building to start negotiations with the gunmen.
Most teachers don’t talk about the gun situation directly. They’ll give vague allusions when going over safety: “If something happens like what happened before.” “It’s been that way since the incident a few years ago.”
I worry, sometimes, about the impact of avoiding talking about difficult subjects — how it might make them more likely to happen again. But I also consider how painful it must be, to continue on when tragedy was so close to crashing down upon them.
I don’t think anyone will ever be able to stop feeling the effects. Whether for good or bad, this is something that will stay in our history forever, no matter how many years pass.