Yesterday, North Park Elementary School students said goodbye to their parents and filed into their classrooms for the first time since 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez and his teacher were gunned down in their classroom. Jonathan was known by his friends, family, and acquaintances within the school as a "happy child" with a sunny personality. He was born with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can cause learning and developmental delays, and a host of physical symptoms that frequently require surgery. But despite the adversity he'd faced, school staff remembers him as a vivacious, curious child who was "full of life." That life was tragically cut short as he stood next to his special education teacher, Karen Smith, when Smith's estranged husband entered her classroom and began shooting. Jonathan and Karen were killed and a second student was injured.
In a nation where more than 112,000 people are shot by guns each year and 33,000 die as a result of their injuries, we rarely get such a personal glimpse into the lives that are taken by gun violence. As a researcher at the Brady Campaign & Center, part of my job is combing through raw data, calculating percentages, and analyzing statistics. In fact, I had just finished analyzing data on gun violence in schools for a new report, when I saw the all too familiar "breaking news" banner on CNN that indicated another shooting had taken place in San Bernardino.
Less than a week after putting the finishing touches on that report, our statistics were already wildly out of date. Unlike some researchers, those who study gun violence live in a world constantly in flux—one where data sets measure futures cut short by bullets.
It's too easy to get lost in the numbers, and I struggle each and every day to connect the inhuman statistics of gun violence with the lives and stories of those who are injured or killed in acts of violence across this country. As we honor more lives lost in a classroom, it's crucial to remember that Jonathan is just one of the thousands of children and teens in the United States that will be impacted by gun violence in their school. From domestic violence events that spill into classrooms, like the one that killed Martinez and Smith last week, to threats or attacks by students themselves, these events are becoming ubiquitous on school grounds, college campuses, buses, and athletic facilities across America.
In the first seven and a half months of the 2016-2017 academic year, at least 90 shootings rocked schools and their communities. Fifteen people have already been killed, not counting the tragedy that unfolded at North Park Elementary School in California, which brought the death toll to at least seventeen. Beyond the immediate physical toll of injuries and deaths, the emotional effects felt by fellow students and staff is immeasurable. One of Jonathan's best friends, Jeffrey, told the Associated Press in the shooting's aftermath that Martinez had simply wandered up to him one day and asked to be his friend. From that day forward, Jeffrey said, they'd remained that way. But with Jonathan's death, Jeffrey also became a victim of the trauma of gun violence in America.
On Monday, the corner outside of North Park Elementary School was adorned with banners of support, cards, prayer candles, and stuffed animals, a reminder of the tragic events that had taken place inside the school just a week prior. News vans lined the street, and staffers waited outside in the school's red t-shirts to welcome and embrace the children who returned to class. New security protocols were installed, local police stood outside to keep watch, crisis counselors were brought in, and neighborhood residents and concerned citizens donated teddy bears. In the aftermath of this shooting, the district will be reviewing security at other schools and considering whether enhanced procedures will be implemented elsewhere in the city. These protocols are becoming more abundant, as gun violence repeatedly plagues our streets, movie theatres, restaurants, and schools. School-aged children are no longer just learning multiplication tables and reading skills; they're getting an up-close and personal education in gun violence, and the damage it does to their communities. I don't know if I will ever be a mother. But if I do, I hope that's a lesson my own children never have to learn.