Author's Notes: Please read the attached note at the end, it is something that everyone should take to heart. XScout@hotmail.com
This story is dedicated to all those who were touched by the events at Santana High School on Monday, March 5th, 2001. If only it had ended like this.
Calling All Angels
The sun is shining and the birds are singing as the wind blows through the trees, sending the aroma of budding spring over the rolling hills. It is a day when children play outside until their mothers call them to dinner, a day young lovers stroll through the park hand in hand. It is a day meant for happiness. Why did it have to be a day like this?
It should be raining. The sky should be gray and dark, the heavens weeping in pain. Anything that does not mock the sorrow so thick it chokes me. How can we bury you on a day such as this?
I am standing in the middle of Arlington Cemetery, surrounded by a small group of people in somber clothing that looks out of place in the bright sunshine. We are gathered around a coffin, its rich mahogany surface dappled with white roses. The flag has been removed and is being folded as we stare numbly at the process. The sharp report of gunfire jerks everyone with its suddenness. Another round is fired as the rifles send their salute into the sky. I close my eyes as the sound echoes in my ears.
I never thought it would be this way. I knew our job was dangerous and that death was always just a step behind, but I accepted that fact and kept on with my life, hoping that you and I would be able to keep that one step ahead. There was always a chance that a suspect would turn and shoot instead of run or a serial killer would target one of us. Perhaps a mutant would tear us apart with its claws or we would die from an unknown disease concocted in a laboratory. There was even the possibility of being abducted by aliens and being returned in a condition that left little hope but death. But I never thought it would be something so benign as a child.
You left me in bed that morning with a kiss on the forehead and a promise to be back soon. I mumbled something incoherent that was meant to be "Have a good run" but came out more like "Huv goo rnn". You just chuckled and told me you loved me. I said I loved you too, a bit more clearly and then turned over and snuggled back down in the covers. I heard the door shut just as I drifted off to sleep again.
I was awakened by the phone right beside my ear and I answered it with the glibness I had portrayed all morning. There was silence on the other end for a moment and in those few seconds I knew that something had happened to you. I sat up in bed and waited, my body trembling in fear. After clearing his throat, Skinner identified himself, his voice hoarse with emotion. Stammering over his words, he told me that you had been shot. You had been jogging by George Washington High School when you heard gunfire coming from inside the school. You, not being known for your sense of self-preservation, ran through the entrance gate, unarmed.
Accounts are varied, as the eye-witness statements from students ranging from thirteen to eighteen years old in shock are expected to be, but they all came together to form a clear picture of what had happened. A student had pulled a gun from his backpack and opened fire on his classmates during passing period, not caring who or what he was aiming at. You managed to get the kids in the immediate vicinity to safety, herding them into an open classroom, dragging those who had been wounded, and slamming the door shut behind you. The teacher was on the phone with the front office and was informing them of what was happening. You told her to look after the injured children and then you did a terribly stupid thing. You went back out into the hall and tried to talk the shooter into giving up his weapon. I know you had to do it, you couldn't let any more kids get hurt. But why did it have to be you?
The police arrived a few minutes later to find you and the shooter sitting across from each other in the hall. He had his knees pulled up to his chest, his eyes dull as he sat immobile, his gun laying several feet from him. You were leaning against a row of lockers, your blood pooling beneath you on the speckled linoleum floor. No one knows what you said to get the kid to put down his weapon or why he shot you just before he did. No one knows where he got the gun. No one knows why he turned it on his peers in the first place. There is so much that we don't know except that in the end there was left a wake of devastation. Seven students were wounded, two of them seriously, parents and children terrified and in shock, the community was brought to its knees. And with that, the death of one FBI agent who gave up his life to keep the children safe.
When Skinner finished I had gone numb all over, the phone slipping from my hand to bounce off the bed and clatter on the floor. I spent the next twenty-four hours in a kind of fog, dealing with the police and making arrangements for your funeral.
I didn't wake up until I found myself before your grave, my hands clutching a single red rose and bagpipes playing 'Amazing Grace' in the background. The pastor was chanting words of comfort but I couldn't listen. Why would God take you away from me, just as we had begun to love? Why in such a senseless act of violence would He let your light be snuffed out after you had burned so long and bright? You had done so much, accomplished more than most men do in a lifetime, and had suffered through it all. Hadn't you earned something more than this?
Then something occurred to me that hadn't before. What if you *had* earned something more? Something so special and sacred that is only bestowed upon those with a pure heart and courageous soul. You had been my angel for so long, sheltering me with your love and filling my emptiness, that perhaps God felt He needed you as one of His own.
I think of you up in Heaven, bestowing your protection on so many who are lost, your presence comforting to those in need. I see your face before my eyes and a light shines from within that takes my breath away. I realize that the expression of pure joy is because for the first time you are truly free. I smile back, knowing that no matter what happens, you will still be with me, in my heart. The gaping wounds in my soul begin to heal, slowly and painfully, but they start to mend.
The last gunshot fades and the silence that follows lasts less than a minute before the birds begin their chorus once again. Skinner takes the folded flag and solemnly hands it to me. I accept it gratefully, touched by the tears brimming in his eyes. You have no relatives and I am your listed next of kin and that is the official reason I'm receiving the token. Unofficially it is because Skinner knows that you and I shared something indescribable and pure, a love beyond anything of this earth.
The bagpipes mournfully begin their dirge once more but the notes no longer crush my heart, evoking only a sense of peace. The coffin is lowered into the ground but I do not watch its descent. Instead I stare up into the sky, knowing that you are smiling down on me.
On Monday, March 5th 2001, my view of my world changed. Sure, I had watched the events at Columbine two years ago in horror and shaken my head in sadness, but I was relieved that it could never possibly happen in my own back yard. I was wrong. I live in Santee, went to Santana High School for 4 years and graduated in 1996 to spend the next five years going to college and working to pay for it. I didn't get out much, as Santee is one of those places where nothing *ever* happens. I wish that were still true. Because on that Monday I watched as my community cried out in pain when a 15-year-old gunned down more than 13 of his classmates at my alma mater.
I was 2 blocks away at work, the TV on the News channel. I was shocked, shaken in a way that I can't describe when I heard the statement "Shots fired at Santana High School". I didn't know any of the students anymore; all those I had come into contact with had graduated years ago. But I did know the teachers, was intimately familiar with the campus, and was so close to the whole thing that it felt as though my world was falling apart as the events unfolded. I tried to go about my work, keeping half an ear on the news, but then they announced the death toll and the wounded list. Two innocents were dead and 11 others wounded. Not only that, but the only employee I have that went to that school was one of the victims. What were the chances? My mind was reeling as phone calls from concerned co-workers came pouring in. I assured them that he was going to be okay, it was just a leg wound.
But I knew that he isn't going to be okay. None of us are. This isn't something that just affects those who were there physically, but all those who were with them in heart. It affects the community as a whole, from adult to child. We cry out, "How could this happen?" No one knows the answer, we can only try to pick up the pieces and get on with our lives. Knowing that this tragedy could have been prevented leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but hindsight is no good unless we learn from our mistakes. Please, if you ever hear anyone talking about shooting someone else, especially at school, bring it to the attention of the authorities. It doesn't matter if it may have been spoken in jest because simple embarrassment is much easier to deal with than the broken bodies of children.
God called for his angels on that day, and though we wept at their loss, we must remember that they will be with us always, watching over us.