If you’re like most people, you’re lucky enough to not have any experience with school shootings. I certainly have none. There’s always been a part of me that thinks I’d know how to react or what to do if pressed with a situation that included my own possible murder at the hands of a bullet-toting sociopath, but I’m only fooling myself, and this week has seemingly gone out of its way to prove to me just how wrong I am.
In case you haven’t logged in to your TUMail account lately, Temple neglected to inform students of an FBI investigation into graffiti scrawled on a bathroom stall in Gladfelter Hall that threatened to “honor [Columbine shooters] Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 20th” since March. For those of you that really have not logged into your TUMail account lately, it is now April, and Temple students were only informed after the local Fox News station uncovered the story. And while the vitriol that I’ve heard directed at the Main Campus brass for keeping a clear issue of campus safety from the people that need it most is certainly warranted, the situation now feels much graver after having had a week to digest the facts.
We think that we want to be told if we are, in fact, in danger. We convince ourselves that it’s possible to be prepared. I certainly would prefer prior warning before risking my life because I really felt like a picking up a slice of honey-garlic-chicken pizza on Saturday. And yet, short of forcing every student indoors on April 20 in a good, old-fashioned lockdown, there seems to be increasingly less and less that anyone can do to prevent an event like this from breaking out anymore.
First, we need to address whether or not Temple really had a good reason to keep this entire story under wraps for the better part of a month. Considering the investigation involves Philadelphia Police, Philadelphia Police’s Homeland Security Unit and the FBI, it’s certainly possible that discretion was an agreed-upon standard. But while I want to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation – a group I assume to be more-than-slightly experienced in handling scoundrels of all makes and models – the benefit of the doubt in its bad guy-catching operating procedure, there seem to be a few disheartening possible reasons that Temple may have held information back from its students.
Most notably, I’m not particularly sure how “Temple Made” an armed madman sprinting through Beury Beach would look to outsiders. With Spring Fling and Alumni Weekend falling squarely around the potential attacker’s April 20 assault date, giving our unquestionably massive alumni and student bodies a full month to stew over their safety at these events may have resulted in a decidedly smaller turnout.
Regardless of the reason, Temple officials – by virtue of their relationship with the student body – gambled by not revealing the onset of the investigation from students, hoping the information wouldn’t find a way to leak. They lost.
But what can any of us do if faced with the horrifying reality that is a campus shooting? I don’t want to let a coward making a seemingly empty threat to “show [me] the meaning of suffering” on a bathroom wall dictate my life from far away. In fact, I refuse. There are a thousand different ways each of us can be killed every single day. It’s one of the harsh realities that comes part and parcel with the rest of the Life Package your parents ordered from Amazon Stork 20-ish years ago.
Getting behind the wheel of a car or biking without a helmet are foolishly dangerous acts of bravado when one takes a good hard look at what’s statistically most likely to kill you, and yet I often participate in those activities just for fun. I don’t allow the crushing danger that comes with hurling my body at 67 miles an hour down a highway while inventing ways to dance to Daft Punk using only my shoulders to stop me from living my life. I absolutely refuse to let the empty threats of a sick human being keep me terrified and indoors for the rest of my life.
If you’re like me, you like to assume that both your school and the forces that the government employ to protect you have strict plans mapped out in the godforsaken event that an armed coward actually does open fire on you or your campus. In the wake of this year’s exhausting amount of public violence sprees, capped off by the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt, I’m quite frankly not sure that this is currently – or ever has been – the case. Police forces – and SWAT teams especially – are mostly reactionary by nature, generally called only after any sort of tragedy breaks out. While the presence of a bicycle cop may do wonders in preventing a street burglar from snatching your purse and making a getaway, the current security presence on campus may not do much to deter a man intent on taking out as many students as possible before turning a weapon on himself.
While the debate rages on as to how to exactly prevent tragedies like Columbine or Virginia Tech from breaking out, the only option each and every one of us can take tomorrow is to make sure we take a vested interest in the mental well-being of those around us. Short of instituting security screenings before entering every single elevator on campus, ensuring that the human beings around you have the adequate love and mental care that they need to live hopeful and fulfilling lives just may be the only thing standing between our own community and the horrors that so many across the nation have already been unfairly forced to suffer.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.