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Living in Terror

"At eleven years old, I was taught what to do if someone decided to shoot up my school."

Active-shooter drills have become commonplace for students in schools across the U.S. (Photo: Dean Terry/Flickr/cc)

Growing up in an America where guns are seen as more of a priority than children's lives, I remember the first time a school shooting affected me. I was eleven years old, still in the first semester of 6th grade, when my mother informed me that twenty children had died in Newtown, Connecticut.

At eleven years old, I was taught what to do if someone decided to shoot up my school. That if I had to run away to run in zig-zags so it would be harder to aim at my prepubescent body. That the safest place to hide in a classroom was behind the teacher's metal desk. That if my peers were being massacred beside me I should play dead because the perpetrator probably wouldn’t double-tap the bodies on the ground. My friends and I kept ketchup packets in our back pockets just in case we needed fake blood to convince a hypothetical killer we were dead. This was also the year I had my first real "Code Red," as a stranger was on and around school grounds with a weapon.

By the time I turned twelve years old, a shooting happened in my town and while it wasn’t my school I still remember the day. I was in fourth period art. Phones around me rang and buzzed at the cry of fellow middle schoolers sending their loved ones prayers for survival. At Sparks Middle School, a mere 11-minute drive from where I was, two people were killed and two others injured.

I was petrified at the time but now when I bring up what happened no one even bats an eye. In fact, no one bats an eye when I mention any of the shootings anymore. Most of my peers don't even recall the local Pine Middle School shooting either. They seem typical now—easily forgotten.

We say our "thoughts and prayers" for a day and quicker than the epidemic began we brush it away because no one wants to realize that there's a problem! I am done with thoughts and prayers they do not change laws! They do not change that fact that there have been TWO middle school shootings in my area, in my lifetime. I am only 17. There shouldn't be two shootings filling that time!

I am now a junior in high school. I look at my peers as both future victims and future villains. I look at freshman on my bus bragging about their parents' gun ownership and how much experience they have behind a killing machine. My school has had two Code Reds in the two and a half years I’ve been attending. I watch my friends have panic attacks under desks in the dark while the desensitized seniors merely sit on their phones and text their parents a warning about the theoretical gun-down.

My school gets multiple shooting threats a year and does nothing to help prevent this. My mom worries about me and begs me to become a recluse under the shield of online schooling and I have deeply considered it. Every day I think about how the likelihood of my school being next is uncomfortably grand. I think about how easy it is to get a gun and how my school never locks its doors. How many angry students, staff, and strangers there are. The most heartbreaking part is that no one ever calls that thinking far-fetched because every single student in America has had similar thoughts traverse their mind at some point.

We live in an America I do not want my little sister to grow up in. She is going into kindergarten this year and I'm already worrying.

My local school district has done nothing to protect its students. In fact, they tried to silence us during the walkout on March 14. They threatened us with truancy. In my school we were locked in the courtyard in an attempt to not draw public attention. My school tried to silence our remembrance of death and decay and hope for a new tomorrow.

I want my sister to grow up in something better. I want her to not be afraid of dying in a place that is supposed to protect her. I don’t want her to carry ketchup in her pockets. I don’t want her to panic under desks. To think about the inevitability of a shooting at her school. Or to know her government cares more about NRA money and a trigger than her life. America needs to change from its very core and we can't wait for yet another slaughter to change our laws. The change has to happen NOW. For me. For my sister. For my generation and for every generation behind it.

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Alyssa Wetherbee

Alyssa Wetherbee is a junior in high school in Reno, Nevada, who delivered this speech at her school's walkout on March 14.

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