My Turn: In 1985, Concord High was the site of another school shooting

Last modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Most of you probably don’t attach any significance to this date: Dec. 3, 1985. On a daily basis, I don’t either. But I have been reminded of it since Friday’s events at Sandy Hook, Conn. Once I explain, I imagine many of my friends from Concord High School will know why I’ve been thinking of it.

On that day, almost 30 years ago, a student walked into our high school with a shotgun and the intent of shooting people at school. Our ending was far less tragic, if tragedies can be qualified, than the ending at Sandy Hook on Friday. But it did result in death – that of an 11th-grader who felt no other option than to come to school with a gun, take hostages and try to shoot students and staff. This was years before Columbine became a household name. Years before metal detectors in schools. Years before “lock down” was a common term. Years before anti-bullying was in vogue.

I remember many details of that day: the announcement over the intercom to stay in our classrooms; watching from my math class window as every type of law enforcement and rescue personnel surrounded our school; being terrified. In the days of confusion after the event, when we were allowed back to school, I sobbed in the arms of a friend, both of us feeling tremendous guilt because we had teased this boy in gym class. I remember his face.

This tragedy was unfortunately overlooked in many ways because almost two months later Concord High School was plunged into another horrific event: the explosion of the space shuttle carrying our beloved teacher, Christa McAuliffe.

I wonder if things might have been different if our school shooting had not been eclipsed by a larger media event. I don’t know. What I do know is that senseless, horrible crimes can happen anywhere. If we turn our heads and mutter that it won’t happen here, we are turning our heads from major issues of bullying, gun control and mental health reform. I’m afraid that these issues have become worse in the past 27 years.

I think of how I felt on a cold day in December back in 1985 and how I feel on a cold day in December 2012. This horrendous crime affects not only the families of the lost children and staff in Connecticut but also those all over the United States who have lost a child, have mentally unstable children or family members, or who have experienced a crime in their own school. The sadness, pain and fear subside but rarely disappear altogether. Maybe because I’m now a mother of an elementary school student, the feelings rush back to me as never before after the news of a school shooting.

I believe in the right to bear arms – but not in assault weapons for citizens. I believe in de-institutionalization – but not so far that there are no beds available or not enough insurance funds to cover those who desperately need help with their mental illness.

The one thing I firmly believe that should not be controlled by laws of moderation in this world are love and peace.

(Sarah Chalsma of Webster owns and operates a gardening business, Green Frog Gardens.)