When the Violence Hits Home

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Vox, Atlanta

“Hey, did you hear there’s going to be a shooting outside after school?” my friend Cindy asked me as we were on our way to tech lab.

I could feel my stomach in my throat. What about my family? I have to tell my mom. Where is Alex? And Dad – is he in his classroom? I began to panic and immediately picked up the phone in the lab to call my mother.

Both my parents work at my high school. My mother is a secretary in the counselor’s office. My dad teaches U.S. history and works in the main building, closer to where the buses pick up students and where there was supposed to be a shooting that day. My brother Alex also goes to my high school. He’s a senior.

“Counselor’s Office, how may I help you?”

I sighed a breath of relief when my mom answered.

“Mom, I heard that there is going to be a shooting after school today,” I said. “Do you know where Alex and Dad are?” Questions were burning in the back of my brain. What if they got caught in the shooting? What would happen to them?

“Yes, Alex is in here, and your father is in his classroom. The administrators already know; don’t panic.”

“OK. I love you so much. Bye.”

Riverdale High was suddenly being hit with gang violence. I never thought it would happen. I was scared for my family, my friends, and my life.

The talk of gangs first came up a day earlier. “Did you hear about the fight in front of the school?” my friend Krystal asked me in chemistry.

“Um, no. What happened?” I replied. I wasn’t nervous. Fights happen all the time.

“Well, a group of black kids jumped a group of Hispanic kids.” Krystal is Hispanic and was upset that many of her friends were in the fight. I rolled my eyes at her statement. I couldn’t have cared less about fights. They never affected me.

I didn’t become worried until World Literature, later that same day. I usually love that class. All my friends were there. I was talking to Monica when I saw Madeline enter. She seemed very upset.

“Madeline, what happened?” I asked.

“These black people threatened to jump me because I’m half Hispanic,” she said.

“What? But you’re also black! That is so stupid.”

“I know. I don’t want to get into another fight.”

I finally got scared. It was the next day when everyone said there would be a shooting after school. That’s when I decided to call my mom.

No shots were fired, and we left for home at the same time as usual.

A few weeks later, I was in the middle of first period when I asked my teacher if I could go to the restroom. Since they locked the bathrooms to keep kids from hanging out, I used the one in the counselors’ office. I noticed the counselors looked worried. My mother gestured to me.

“Hey, what’s going on around here?” I asked.

“A student was shot to death on Saturday,” she said.

It was devastating. I learned later that it was due to gang violence. I didn’t know the boy all that well, but some of my friends did. It brought so much hurt to my school. I would even see my friends in tears.

Riverdale High died a little that month. I know that I did. Our lives never really went back to normal. There have been a couple of fights here and there, but nothing dramatic. I notice gang signs and colors walking through the halls. My heart still races every time I hear the school secretary call over the intercom, “Teachers and students: We are on lockdown. Please do not write any passes, and stay in the classes.”

Copyright 2008 VOX Teen Communications