Tragedy at the Middle School
PART 1: The Bad-Ass Teacher
Another Monday brought yet another teacher meeting. Heidi and Stephanie spent most of the time grading papers and texting GIFs to each other. Heidi's seventh text read, SOOOO many more important things I could be doing!
Before the principal dismissed everyone, he mentioned, "...also there's a school shooter training on Friday for anyone who'd like to participate."
"A what?" yelled out one of the few male teachers from the back as everyone looked puzzled.
The principal replied, "In light of everything going on around the country, we thought it best to have someone come in and train us on what to do if there's ever an active shooter in our building."
Heidi looked at Stephanie with eyes wide, pulled her brown hair back into a ponytail and said, "Cool!"
Stephanie looked surprised as teachers gathered their materials and headed out to the hallway.
On Wednesday a slow trickle of parents came in and out of the building for conferences with teachers. The meetings were only partially productive since most of the ones who attended were the "good" parents with "good" kids. Occasionally a few naughty ones came in and managed to discuss ways to improve their child's issues.
"I don't understand why you don't give more homework," one parent commented. "she needs to be challenged to work harder."
Heidi pulled out a stack of worksheets and a list of websites that could be done at home and handed them to the dad while explaining their benefits.
"I don't understand why you give homework at all!" the next parent complained.
Heidi managed a smile despite the constant reminders that it is possible for perfectly normal, smart human beings to have no future because a parent won't do their job. "Because he stares at the wall and does nothing at school all day."
"But that's because he has ADHD."
Heidi smiled again...If I had a dime for every time I've heard that excuse... "Does that mean he's not able to click on and watch a video?"
"Well, he refuses to do it in class, so he has to do it at home."
"But we're tired at night and I don't want to figure out what work he's missing."
With a deep breath, Heidi responded, "We offer free after school tutoring twice a week. He could stay and get one-on-one help without any distractions on those days."
The woman rolled her eyes and grumbled, "Well if he's too distracted BEFORE 3:00, what makes you think he's going to be able to do work AFTER 3:00?"
Heidi rubbed her forehead and did NOT scream out, You're the reason your kid is an asshole!
Pause...deep breath, "Well, Ms Morgan, my goal is for Tommy to learn something... ANYTHING before he moves on to high school next year. However, at the rate he's going, that's never going to happen." she tried to control the sarcasm in her voice, "So basically, something has to give. He either has to do work during school, after school, or at home. The choice is yours. Otherwise, he's never going to learn anything...ever."
Like so many parents before her, Ms Morgan rolled her eyes and said, "Fine! I guess I'll have him stay after," just to end the conversation quickly, but it never actually happened. Yet another mind...wasted.
An hour later Michael entered the room with his mom. Heidi explained that Michael is very bright, but has been giving the teachers attitude all semester. "All of his test scores indicate that he's extremely smart, and possibly college material." Heidi explained. "However, for some reason Michael has shut down and refuses to cooperate."
His mom patted him on the back, and said, "See, I told you you were smart. But why do you give them such a hard time?"
Michael said nothing as he turned his eyes to the floor.
Heidi asked, "Is there anything going on I should know about?"
Michael shrugged his shoulders, and shook his head. "No."
Mom looked at him with concern and asked, "Are you seriously being disrespectful to these teachers?"
Again Michael shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
Heidi was relieved to see that at least mom cared enough to hold him accountable and to question his behavior.
Again Heidi asked, "Are you upset about anything? Is there anything we should know about?"
Heidi realized she needed to get more specific. "How are things going with your friends here at school? Are you getting along with everyone okay?"
"What about at home? Is there anything going on there that's bothering you?"
Michael shrugged again and simply said, "I don't know."
From there the conversation went around in circles between mom, Heidi, and Michael for a few minutes. Finally, there was an awkward silence as mom turned to Michael, put her hand on his arm, and asked, "Is this about your father?"
Immediately his facial expression turned from complacency to pain. Tears ran down his face as it turned red. He wept. Mom tried to comfort him, and Heidi realized they had finally come to the source of the problem.
As his mom's eyes turned red, she looked at Heidi and explained, "His dad keeps promising to visit, but he never does."
Despite the number of times she'd had this conversation with students, Heidi's heart broke as painfully this time as it did the first several times. She smiled and tried to comfort them as she imagined what the dad must look like and what it would be like to punch him in the face. Some parents make the mess...some teachers wear themselves out cleaning it up.
Eventually, the conferences ended, teachers went home, and classes resumed on Thursday.
During their twenty five minute lunch, Stephanie pried open her Tupperware and commented, "So do you think the training will be a video, or hands-on practice?"
Heidi replied, "If it's not hands-on, I don't think it'll do anyone any good."
Stephanie asked, "Have you ever played out in your mind what you'd do if a shooter actually came into the building?"
"Of course," Heidi insisted. "Hasn't everyone?"
Most of the teachers and assistants in the room nodded and agreed.
Stephanie looked around, and then added, "I'd like to think I'd be brave, but don't know that I wouldn't duck under a table and chicken out."
"We all have those thoughts," said Mr. Phillips from the table in the corner.
Heidi said, "That's why we need hands-on training. It helps you think things through ahead of time and increases your chances of doing something smart instead of panicking or getting yourself and others killed." she explained as she gestured with her hands and arms, "It works the muscle-memory so you can respond automatically."
The other teachers agreed. The bell rang, and suddenly they all scrambled to get to their classes as they tossed away garbage and said goodbyes to each other.
Thankfully Friday was a short day. The kids were wild, but gone before lunch. Teachers worked quickly to enter grades and set up lessons for the following week. They ALL showed up for the training. This was one meeting they would not miss.
There were no tables or chairs. Just an empty gym with two former military officers and one cop standing in the center welcoming everyone. "Sign in!" they yelled as teachers wandered around the room. "Gotta get those professional development points!"
It didn't take long to realize that this training would be taught by people who'd actually used the techniques in real life. They discussed facts and data about what movements increase the likelihood of surviving a shooter and how to perform them. Rubber handguns and assault rifles were handed out as teachers and staff were divided into groups of ten. Demonstrations were taught and then practiced. Some of the teachers hesitated, some insisted on just observing, others jumped in with conviction. Over and over again the movements were practiced and perfected.
Stephanie waited until everyone had gone at least once before she finally agreed to try it. She brought her left shoulder up correctly, but forgot to step across the officer's body and pull the weapon down hard.
"Try it again," he said. She did, but then stepped back to let someone else go when she was done.
"That's all for me." she mumbled to herself as she looked at her shaking hands.
Heidi, on the other hand, got back in line over and over. Each time she moved quicker and with more accuracy. Each time she became more confident and determined...so much so that the trainers asked if she'd like to assist with future trainings at other schools. She agreed and signed up without hesitation.
"So what did you think?" Stephanie asked forty five minutes later as they made their way back to their rooms.
"Awesome!" Heidi replied with a smile. "I can't say I'd save the day, but I'm definitely more confident and prepared if the time comes...God forbid."
Stephanie nodded, thought for a moment, and replied, "Yes. I think it was good."
"I didn't get to see you do a demo."
"Well, I only did it once." Stephanie said.
"Really? Why?" Heidi asked with surprise.
"It just...freaked me out a little."
Heidi thought it was fantastic and empowering, but held back her response so as not to insult. "I get it." she said. "It is a little nerve-wracking at first."
"It is." Stephanie said. They walked in awkward silence as they realized the differences in their perspectives. They worked another two hours, and then made plans to have lunch on Saturday.
The following Tuesday, Heidi pushed and pulled a cart full of laptops into her room. She made a few notes on her whiteboard calendar, and then headed back through the crowded halls. Somehow her timing was perfect. As she turned the corner, she immediately saw Josh (the known bully) grab Xavier (the quiet kid who bothered no one) by the back of his hoodie. Not a small grab so as to simply startle him, but a drastic, violent grab-and-jerk that caused him to drop everything he was trying to put into his locker, and then cough from loss of breath.
Without hesitation, Heidi grabbed Josh by the sleeve of his sweatshirt and marched him down the hall, down the stairs, and towards the office.
Before they got to the bottom of the stairs, Josh yelled, "You can't touch me!"
"You're not supposed to touch other students, but that didn't stop you, did it!" she demanded without hesitation.
"Get your hands off..."
"Shut your mouth, Josh. Nobody cares what you have to say right now!" she barked as she stopped and stared into his eyes only inches away from his face. Her voice was loud and sharp enough to startle him into submission. He knew she was the teacher nobody messed with. She turned and walked quickly while he followed along without further argument. She burned at the injustice of what he'd done to Xavier. She and other teachers had seen him do this over and over and knew Josh had to be stopped...once-and-for all!
She dragged him into the principal and immediately explained what happened. The principal glared at both of them in surprise, hesitated, and then said, "Okay, Mrs. Moore, I'll take care of it."
Heidi stormed out, made her way up the stairs, and found Xavier. He was still at his locker, eyes red from holding back tears. His friends were helping him stack the items he'd dropped back into his locker. She thanked them and told them they could head back to class. She regained her composure, and then handed him a tissue from her pocket and said slowly, "Sweetie, you're gonna need to tell your parents what happened."
"That's okay, Mrs. Moore. I'm okay." he whispered without making eye contact.
She insisted with kindness and concern in her voice, "The thing is, Xavier, your parents need to be aware that this type of stuff happens here and that it happened to you."
He stopped and looked into her eyes with confusion. He thought for a moment, and then nodded.
"Go to my class," she continued, "and use my phone to call them right now. Okay? I'll let your teacher know you'll be a few minutes late."
"Thanks, Mrs. Moore." he replied as she patted him on the back reassuringly.
Minutes later he was in his homeroom class and she was in hers. "Good morning!" she said cheerfully as if nothing had happened.
After school she met with the principal to follow up on what had happened. He'll need more details, she thought to herself.
"Yes," the principal began, "I need to talk to you about how you handled that situation this morning."
Confused, she replied, "Okay."
The principal walked over to a digital video player and pressed buttons. An angled black and white view of the hallways showed Josh choking Xavier, Heidi pulling Josh through the halls and stairs, and then lost the view when they entered the office. The principal then pressed, STOP.
Again Heidi said, "Was there a question about it?"
The principal laughed slightly and replied, "Well yes, you touched a student inappropriately."
"Excuse me? You mean like, molested...?" Heidi replied in shock.
"No, no of course not, but..."
"But what then? He physically assaulted another student and I did what I had to do to stop him."
"Technically, you're not supposed to touch him."
"Technically, I never made contact with that boy's body. Technically, the only thing I touched was his sweatshirt." she insisted with irritation in her voice.
"Well, be that as it may, if something like this ever went to court, we could be sued by his parents," said the principal.
Heidi regained her composure, but kept the level of sarcasm. "Okay. Well then, if that's what we're worrying about these days, Xavier's parents could "technically" sue us since Josh has done this to other students over and over, but we've never done anything about it."
The principal knew better than to start a battle with Heidi. She could be a firebrand, and was very popular among students, parents, and other teachers. "Look," he said calmly, trying to regain control of the conversation, "Josh is...well, he's a 'troubled youth'."
"Right." Heidi agreed waiting for the point.
"He also comes from a troubled home." the principal continued.
Oh God, here it comes again, Heidi thought to herself. "Okay. So what are we planning on doing about what happened?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"Well, I'll be calling the parents. He'll have in-school suspension tomorrow." the principal replied.
There was a long pause as Heidi waited for more. "But this is at least the fifth time this has happened and he's not getting any better." she reminded the principal. "Children are getting hurt and..."
The principal interrupted and yelled, "What would you have me do, Mrs. Moore? Expel him?!"
"Um...yes!" she replied as if it were obvious.
"Oh great. And what will that do? Leave him at home all day with no one to watch him? No one to care?" The tension in the room quickly escalated. This was not the first time they'd had this type of conversation.
Heidi tempered her response and finally said, "Obviously there needs to be a place for kids like him. He needs help, therapy, maybe foster care, medication, and whatever else. But our hallways and classrooms aren't the place to give a kid like him what he needs. And, there are hundreds of other students that we need to protect from kids like him."
"Kids like him? What's that supposed to mean?" he quipped, their voices still escalating.
Heidi hesitated with a look of confusion. "What does it mean? Your own special-ed coordinator had him tested and said he's officially in the 'psychopathic tendencies' range! Does that not frighten you even a little?"
By now, teachers and staff were slowly making their way around the exterior of the door as the argument began to echo down the halls. They tried to look busy with papers in their hands as they leaned in and listened.
"Oh this again!" the principal yelled as he turned his back.
"Yes!" Heidi yelled as they now stood across the round table from each other, "and again, and again! As many times as it takes to get you to understand that it's your job to protect these kids, damn it!"
"I don't need you to tell me what my job is!"
Heidi nodded and replied, now in full sarcasm mode, "Apparently you do because if you'd taken care of this problem months ago, we wouldn't have a twelve year old with burn marks on his neck and pissed off parents!"
The principal pointed his finger at Heidi. "That's another thing, I don't appreciate you telling students to call their parents every time some..." He hesitated and regretted it as soon as he said it.
Heidi's eyes widened in shock. "Hah!" she laughed out loud in bewildered amazement. "Are you kidding me! Now you're going to try to hide what's happening to these kids?"
The principal backed down. "That's...that's not what I meant."
"Bullshit!" Heidi demanded. "I know what you meant. Somehow you've convinced yourself to care more about the bullies than the kids BEING bullied.
The principal stared at the table and said nothing.
"You and your whacked-out reasoning somehow justifies the idea of protecting the criminal at the expense of the victim." she yelled as she paced back and forth. "Don't get me wrong, at this age I know that kids like Josh need help and I P-R-A-Y that there's still a chance that he will get help and make changes. But we math, English, and science teachers are not equipped to give him the therapy he needs. And we certainly can't do it while teaching thirty other kids how to read and multiply!"
"We're done here." the principal interrupted as he pointed at the door as if to tell Heidi to leave.
"No we're not." Heidi continued. "You need to call someone at the state level and figure out where kids like him can be sent for REAL help."
"There isn't anything like that," he replied.
"I don't believe that. I do NOT believe that the state would expect you to bring up test scores while, at the same time, keeping dangerous students in the room. And if that's actually true, then THEY are the ones who need to be sued!" she demanded.
The principal scoffed, "We can't sue the Board of Education."
"Like hell we can't!" Heidi was enraged by now. She'd gone from controlled arguing to out-of-body preaching. "And if we really and truly can't, the parents certainly can!"
"Why do you always bring parents into things?" he insisted.
"Because they're the only ones with any power in this crappy system!" Heidi said as she pointed around the room." God knows we teachers can't fix the problems that we're seeing every day. We've been legally castrated by our own bureaucracy and frivolous lawsuits!" she turned and slammed her hand flat against a tall bookshelf. "My God, how can you stand it? How do you stand the injustice and bullshit?!"
The principal could now see the employees loitering around outside his window and felt he had to cut things short. He walked to the door, opened it and calmly said, "I need you to leave now."
Heidi walked out, then turned sharply. She looked into his eyes and vowed in a low and angry voice, "So help me God, that boy will never step foot into my class again. And if he ever touches another student, I'll kick his ass myself. And it will ALL be your fault!" she said pointing at him.
The principal bit his lip and regretted opening the door for all to hear.
Still pointing at him she announced, "If you're not going to protect these kids...I will!" She stormed out while the other teachers walked away in awkward silence.
He slammed the door behind her.
That Sunday Heidi sat at one end of the couch grading papers while Jack sat at the other end adjusting the volume of the game. They watched and cheered between slices of pizza. Her grading progress was slow, but by the end of the third quarter, she had completed the pile.
They both made comments about good and bad plays, and Jack complained about who should be traded and who should be fired. As she looked over her stack of papers, Heidi grew silent and her mind wandered to the situation with the principal earlier that week. She'd already told Jack about it, but couldn't help dwelling on it again.
She stared across the room at the TV for a moment, and then asked, "You're making a little over, what ... $62,000 now right?"
"What?" He asked only half paying attention while sipping his soda.
Heidi shook her head and repeated, "You make over $62,000 a year."
She stood up, grabbed the remote, and pressed MUTE. "You and I are part of the problem."
"What are we talkin' about?" he asked still staring at the TV.
"Think about this. You make over $62,000 a year at the factory, with only a high-school diploma." By now Jack was wondering why the conversation had changed so quickly. She continued, as she pointed at the TV, "Those jackasses make millions of dollars a year playing football, cheating on their wives, and demanding more money."
"Uh-oh," Jack replied, "I feel a lecture coming on."
"Hear me out." She insisted, "I have a college degree, I put up with way more garbage than you or any football or basketball player will ever have to deal with. I help kids, I try to make the world a better place, and yet I get reprimanded for doing it, and I get paid less than you or any of THOSE guys!" she turned and pointed at the players again.
Jack finished the last bite of his pizza while nodding his head. "Yep. That sounds about right. In a way your job is awesome, and yet in a way your job completely sucks. So why don't you quit?"
"The better question is, why don't we all quit? Why don't all teachers across America just...quit? We're obviously not that important and everyone seems to think that teaching can be done by monkeys."
Jack wiped his mouth with a napkin and reminded her, "Well at least you get summers off."
She rolled her eyes and tilted her head in his direction. His face hinted at his regret. "No?" he asked, "Doesn't make it better?"
"Let me tell you something, buddy," she stated walking around the couch, "if we didn't get summer breaks, every teacher in America really would resign! That's the only time we have to regain our sanity!"
"Hey, I get it. As much as I love you, deep down inside I'm convinced you must be a little crazy to stay at a job like that. I would have left years ago. But, it sounds like teachers unions are demanding more money nationwide."
"Ha! You think that's going to solve it? If we're lucky we might get a two or three thousand dollar raise, and even that's a long shot. To make it worth our while, they'd have to at least double our salaries, and that's never going to happen." she sat back down, took another bite.
He turned towards her, finally ignoring the game, "I'm telling you, you should run for school board, or maybe even mayor. You'd be really good at it and probably get a lot more done than those yahoos we have now. Who knows, one day you could even be governor."
She looked down and laughed, not taking him serious.
"I'm not kidding, babe. You know a ton of people through work, and all the guys I work with would help get the word out. You'd kick ass and overhaul all the crap you complain about all the time."
She liked the idea, but doubted her qualifications. "Mmmm," she mumbled, "I don't know. That's a huge commitment."
He turned back to the TV and assured her, "Well, if you ever change your mind, let me know. Just want you to be happy, babe." He bent over and reached for another slice.
Her mind wandered back to the conversation about raises. "You know what...I'd actually be fine with my salary if we had a little support once in a while."
Jack scowled his brow and mumbled, "Hmm?" as if asking a question.
"That thing you said about the union and raises..."
She raised a hand toward the ceiling as she stood back up and walked across the room in full lecture mode, "I'd be fine with it if parents didn't blame me for their kids' problems. I'd be happy if we had administrators who told out-of-control kids and their idiot parents to shove it once in a while. But are we ever going to get that? Hell no!
"Hell no!" he repeated partially being supportive, partially being sarcastic.
"Teachers union my ass! What good are they? Those union leaders drain us teachers for hundreds of dollars in dues every year, and then go have," she made air quotes with her hands, "'conferences' in Manhattan at five star hotels!"
"And do you know why those guys make millions?" she continued pointing again at the TV.
"Corporate sponsors and guaranteed contracts?" he asked.
"Noooo!" she barked. "Because millions of people like you and me sit around here spending thousands of dollars on Sunday subscriptions and merchandise so that team owners can afford to pay themselves and the players millions of dollars!"
She pulled the coffee table closer to him and sat on it to face him. "What if everyone who watches this crap took..." she paused as she tried to quickly do the math in her head, "half the money they spend on sports and donated it to their local schools? Can you imagine the field trips we could provide? My God, we could easily take kids to Europe, and Asia, and..."
"Honey, honey." he said, placing his hands on her flailing arms trying to calm her down. "I love your enthusiasm. I love your passion. But let's be real, that's never going to happen."
"Oh sure, it'll never happen as long as people like you keep saying it won't. Come on. Turn off the TV and let's cancel our subscription!" she said with conviction.
He leaned back again and said, "Hmmm. Let me finish my food and I'll think about it."
"Yeah right. You do that." she said knowing he didn't mean it.
She stood and stormed off to the back bedroom in a huff. "...and don't even get me started on how we treat nurses, cops and firefighters!"
Jack slid another slice onto his plate, then wiped his beard with one hand and reached for the remote with the other to slowly increased the volume. "I hear you babe!" he yelled.
"Good morning." the teachers said to students the day after Christmas break. Stephanie, Heidi, and Mr. Phillips monitored the halls at the top of the stairs as students drizzled slowly and sadly into the building. The first day back was rough for students and teachers alike, but it was also the quietest day of the year which meant much work would get done.
"They'll perk up by Wednesday," Stephanie commented as the three of them laughed at the somber scene.
They smiled and said "good morning" over and over to each child as they passed, but alas, it was no use. The few who loved school and were happy to be back smiled, but the other ninety percent frowned as they moped on to lockers and homeroom classes.
Thirty minutes later, attendance and lunch counts were done, books were opened, and pencils were sharpened. Heidi displayed the quote-of-the-day on her TV for students to write down, and then come up with their own examples.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."
PART 2: Shots Fired!
A week later, students and teachers were back in the swing of things. Review day was the best! There were worksheets and discussions that skillfully connected one fact to another. There were online games and drills. And at the end of class...the Whiteboard Showdown! The room would be divided into three groups. One child from each group would approach the board which had lines drawn on it dividing the whiteboard into three sections. Questions were asked, answers were written as quickly as possible, and Heidi would declare which team was the winner for that round.
Swiftly students would place the marker back on the board as the next student on their team grabbed it and prepared to answer. Grammar, vocabulary, literature, writing, anything language arts related was covered. Over and over they did this: student after student, question after question, until finally there was a winner. The accumulation of points under each team number meant that winning team got the most coveted prize of all...extra hall passes. Heidi's review games could turn even the most mild-mannered student into fierce competitors, and her test scores always reflected it.
On this day, team two had beaten out the other teams by seven points. Cheers rang out among the winners while nothing was said by the losing teams. She handed out the passes and told them to collect their materials and clean up.
As the students began to settle down, an announcement rang out from the front office. "Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown! This is not a drill!" Suddenly the students fell silent and looked at Heidi with concern.
She hesitated in shock, but only for a moment. With a calm voice she said, "You know what to do."
Immediately the children climbed under their desks as Heidi quickly locked the door and shut off lights. Within seconds the room was completely silent. A minute went by, then two. Heidi assumed it was probably just an angry parent who'd made an empty threat and that law enforcement would be there any minute to calm the person down and escort them out of the building.
They waited. Silence. They waited longer. Then, there was a pop, then another, and another. A boy and a girl gasped. She pointed at them and said, "Shhh!" They both covered their mouths.
Heidi's heart sank and her mind raced. Oh dear God! She thought. Don't let there be a gun!
Although she was panicking on the inside, she wouldn't let it show on the outside. She placed one finger over her mouth reminding them not to make a sound. They knew this meant to be still and calm. She sat on the floor and prayed it would all pass soon. Don't let them touch my door. Don't let them hurt the kids. Don't let them hurt the staff. She repeated in her mind.
By now she had her phone and dialed 911. As she whispered, the operator assured her that the police were on their way. The man asked if she'd locked the door, hidden the children, and many other questions. By the end of the conversation she knew there was nothing else to do but wait.
Within seconds two shots turned into ten, and ten turned into dozens. She tried not to react, but she knew every sound could mean someone being hurt or killed. Sometimes the pops got louder; sometimes they got softer. In her mind she kept thinking: Just wait, don't move, just wait, don't move. By now some of the kids were whimpering and holding each other. She crawled up next to two crying girls and hugged them. "We're okay." she whispered.
Heidi suddenly imagined the evening news. Those dressed up broadcasters who would dramatically ramble on about the number of victims, possible suspects, and names of those still stuck inside. She thought of all those times she'd sat at home, hand over her mouth, hoping everyone got out alive, hoping the suspect would come out with his hands up and get it over-with. She tried to imagine what was happening in the halls and see if she could tell if doors were being broken down.
What kind of guns do they have? Suddenly an image of the trainers flashed before her eyes. "Fast pops mean an automatic rifle; slow ones mean a handgun!" She listened intently now. Rapid rattles rang out from down the hall. Automatic! she thought. For a moment it was silent. Then from far away she heard, POP, silence, POP, POP, silence. Wait...Handgun?
Her mind became confused by the conflicting sounds. Then, a fury of shots rang out from the hall while slow shots rang out behind them. Oh dear God...there's two of them! Suddenly, her mind slowed down; she knew what had to be done! She knew that people were dying. She knew that the police would be cautious and wouldn't come in for several minutes, maybe even hours.
"SHIT!" She whispered loudly. And just like that, Heidi had a plan.
She stepped quickly to her storage cabinet, swung the door open silently and found the hardware tray she used to hang poster boards on her wall. She grabbed the hammer. She sped across the room in silence and leaned over her desk to grab her sweater from her chair. She flung the window shades open and could see flashing lights in the street. Her room was less than 300 feet away from the safety of police officers and fire engines, but the second floor windows didn't open. She held her sweater up to the window spreading her forearm across to drape it flat against the glass. In the other hand she held the hammer as she turned to the children and whispered, "Turn your face away."
They did as she said. She swung with the hammer hoping to break the window quietly, but all it did was bounce off. She'd have to be noisy. She waited for the sounds of the guns to mask her hammering. Harder and harder she hit the glass through the sweater until it finally cracked a little, and then shattered. Over and over she pounded against her sweater to break the glass without shattering pieces into her face or onto the children, and to muffle the sound as much as possible.
Once a large enough hole had been made, she repeatedly hit the outer edges of the glass. The hole grew larger and larger. She cleared away the bottom ledge knowing the children would have to climb out and hang over it and she didn't want them injured as they exited.
Finally, police officers in the distance pointed at her as she waved out the window to get their attention. She placed the sweater over the bottom edge of the window to cover the rough edges. She looked at one child, pointed and said, "Brittany come quick!" Brittany came close but hesitated as she looked out the window. She looked up at Heidi, tears running down, "No, no, I can't. I can't."
Without hesitation, Heidi grabbed the petite girl under the arms, lifted her, and pushed her partially through the window. She paused and hoped rescuers would quickly come help catch them at the bottom. Immediately three firefighters ran towards the building. Once they were below her, she pushed the girl farther through the glass and hung her by her arms as low as she could. It was only a two-story building, but Heidi still worried that the little girl might break an arm or a leg. It wasn't rational considering the situation, but she couldn't help it.
She dropped the girl and the rescuers grabbed her. One leg slammed against the grass hard, but she was able to stand. An officer grabbed her in his arms and ran back across to the street. By then police officers realized what the plan was and five of them ran towards the building. One by one students lined up in the room. They'd climb through the window as Heidi grabbed their hands, hung and then dropped them. Another child climbed, she grabbed, hung, and dropped. Then another child, and another, until finally, all thirty one children were safely out of the building.
Heidi whispered out of the window, "That's it. That's all of them!" The officers reached up and motioned for her to come down. By now the automatic weapon sound was closer and louder. She froze as it passed by her room and grew softer and farther away. She couldn't bring herself to leave. Looking down at her scratched up, shaking hands, she paused in fear. She lowered her head down towards the man and in a louder whisper told them, "Tell my husband, Jack Moore, that I love him." she waved at them as they insisted that she climb out. She wiped tears from her cheeks.
She walked carefully and quietly between fallen chairs. The lights were still out as she reached for the door lock. She inched it open, and peered one eye through the crack to see if a shooter was close. She saw no one. With hands shaking, she opened it a few more inches, stepped out into the hallway, closed the door as silently as she could, and flattened her back against the wall. This is SO stupid! she thought.
Just then she heard steps echoing up the back corner stairs. She stepped lightly towards them and peaked over the half-wall looking down the staircase. There she saw a masked man with a rifle running up. She stepped back quickly and passed several lockers before she found a narrow opening between a locker and a wall. As she tried to control her heavy breathing, she realized she still had the hammer. She didn't remember picking it back up, but there it was.
Just then the man turned the corner from the top of the stairs and headed her way. He came up from her right side, gun angled under his armpit. As soon as the tip of the gun passed her, she wrapped her entire right arm under the section closest to the man, and her left hand grabbed the front end. She pried it away from his body, but he still managed to hold on to it. Then she shoved her whole body against him and the gun. Startled, he pulled the trigger which exploded in her ears and burned against her body. As they struggled, she used her right hand to slam the hammer into the side of his head. His body buckled in shock. This was her chance! She pounded over and over into ear, into cheek, into skull. He let go of the gun to protect himself, but before he could raise his hands, she used the entire weight of her body to force him into the wall. Now the other side of his head was being slammed. Over and over again she pounded him with the hammer before she realized he was already unconscious.
Still afraid, she dropped the hammer and wrapped both hands around the hot barrel of the rifle and jerked with all her might. The overexertion made her fall backward and the gun fell into her lap. She sat up quickly and shaking, flipped the gun around and pointed it at the man.
The gun rattled in her shaking hands as she breathed hard and loud. She finally realized that he was out cold, but something had snapped. She was in a rage! Her breathing was heavy and whimpering. Tears ran down as she slowly stood up. Her teeth were clenched and lips were open. Air came out as she mumbled in a low voice, "You asshole!" Along with the fear came of flood of relief as she held the gun flat against her chest and looked around the hallway.
At the end, a door was open and the top half of Mr. Phillips was lying in the hall while the bottom half was still inside the room. Heidi could see blood and that he was not conscious. Her eyes widened and her rage grew. "DAMN IT!" she yelled as she held the gun horizontally, her hands wide apart. She turned back to the gunman and pounded the unconscious man in the face with it over and over. "You shitty..." she jammed the heel of her shoe into his ribs, "shitty..." then into his groin, "son-of-a-bitch!"
Heidi dropped the gun, fell to her knees in front of him, grabbed him by the collar and slammed his head back and forth into the wall. Her face burned with fury. She heard his teeth rattling in his head. She felt relief at the sight of blood pouring out from his skull, ears, eyes, and mouth.
Heidi jumped. The other gunman! She'd forgotten there were two. She dropped his lifeless body, grabbed the gun, and stood upright on both knees to see if she could tell where the sound came from; the south-west corner. Before she moved, she shoved the gun between her legs, yanked the pony tail that was flopping her hair around, raked her bloody fingers through it, and wrapped it back up tightly.
Still shaking, she mumbled, "I might die, but by God, I'll take both these bastards with me!" With the gun in hand, she ran down the hall, stopped at Mr. Phillips, and felt his pulse. He was alive, but barely. "Stay with me John. Help is coming." she whispered as she placed her bloody hand gently on his cheek.
She crept slowly to the right corner, and waited. More shots. The ringing in her ears made them seem muffled. She barely peaked an eye around the corner, and then back. He was halfway down the hall but not facing her direction.
All was silent for a moment. Finally the man yelled, "Mike!"
She enjoyed knowing Mike had just gotten the crap kicked out of him.
"Mike!" he yelled louder. "Where you at?"
Just then she heard the sound of metal on metal. She remember that sound from the gun range she and Jack had practiced at last year. He was reloading!
As if in slow-motion, she took a deep breath, tightened her grip on the gun, clenched her teeth, stepped out towards him, and held the trigger down hard. Her body rattled from the violent shake of the gun. Her ears rang from its piercing loudness. She shot randomly and out-of-control. She shot high and low at first. Then she shot side to side. Dozens of rounds exploded as large shell casings fell before her. Out from her mouth came a deep and cleansing, "YAAAAAAA!" Her eyes were closed at first, then opened.
She still held the trigger down as the clip emptied and the noise stopped. The second gunman lay dead without ever having the chance to try and stop her. The silence was unnerving. She bent backwards a few inches and took a deep breath, and then let it out, never pointing the gun away from him. She looked around the hall, then collapsed to both knees.
"They're dead." she whispered. Then said louder, "They're dead."
She looked down to see if she'd been injured. Her hands and arms had burn marks from the hot barrel during the struggle with Mike. She saw them, but didn't feel them. There was blood on her arms, hands and chest. She felt for wounds. There were none. The blood was from Mike's head.
She dropped the gun and walked over the second gunman. She could see his dead, open eyes peering through his black ski mask. She straddled his body, sat on his stomach, and yanked off his mask as his head bounced back onto the terrazzo floor. Her eyes burned in rage as she grabbed both of his ears, lifted his head toward her and yelled as if he could still hear her, "You don't mess with children, ya piece of shit!" Then she dropped his head again back to the floor. It bounced again.
As she sat looking around and breathing hard, she looked again at her hands. Trembling and bloody, she raised them wide open to the ceiling as if in prayer and yelled, "F-U-U-U-U-C-K!"
Suddenly she stood and walked around above his head. She grabbed the harness straps used to hold his guns above his shoulders, lifted him a few inches off the ground, and began dragging his lifeless body down the hall as she walked backwards. She smiled at the trail of blood that streaked out from under him. She didn't slow down as she forcefully stepped down each step towards the first floor. She didn't slow down as his body bounced from one step to the next. When she got to the bottom, she was exhausted. She let go, stood straight, rolled her shoulders back, took a deep breath, then bent over and grabbed him again. Slowly she pulled him through the lobby, bumped the interior front door open with her rear end, and dragged him through it. Before she could get him all of the way out the exterior door, a police officer yelled, "Freeze!" but she kept pulling. They were confused at the sight of a lifeless man in black being dragged by a woman in professional clothing.
Finally she knelt beside the dead man, hands on her knees and breathing hard. After catching her breath again, she stood up and pounded the bottom of her shoes into his face over and over while yelling, "Asshole! Asshole! Asshole!"
One officer yelled, "Ma'am, I'm asking you to..." but the officer next to him placed his hand on his shoulder and said, "Wait!" One by one the police officers watched in amazement as they kept their guns pointed in her direction. A few of them reached over and turned on dash-cams to catch it all on tape.
When she was done, she took one final cleansing breath, turned to the officers and yelled, "The other one's still up there and I'm going back to get the son-of-a-bitch!"
As she stormed back through the doors, they followed her, guns drawn, and yelled for her to stay outside, but she ignored them and headed slowly up the stairs. As they passed her they asked where the other shooter was. She pointed around the corner, and the officers ascended on the unconscious man covered in blood.
She remembered Mr. Phillips needed help and she ran to him, placed his head in her lap, and spoke reassuringly to him as he tried to open his eyes. One by one, rescue workers poured into the doors like ants. An assistant principal entered and handed keys to an officer. They opened doors to find children and teachers huddled under desks and in corners. Their cries were easier to hear now that the doors were open.
Two paramedics lifted Mr. Phillips onto a gurney and rolled him down the hall. One of them turned to Heidi and said, "So far it looks like a shoulder wound. He should be fine, ma'am."
She nodded. One of them knelt down to check her for injuries, but she waved him off and insisted, "I'm totally fine. Just help him."
As they walked away, she leaned against a row of lockers and slid down to sit. She watched children emerge and exit the building, straight lines, hands in the air. She heard the squawk of walkie-talkies and the stomping of boots. It was over, but the damage had been done. Her adrenaline was subsiding, as was her rage.
As she looked down the hallway, through the glass library walls she saw a paramedic spread a white sheet over Mrs. Yamaguchi's dead body. She'd been the librarian for twelve years. The sheet absorbed a shocking amount of blood as it rested on her.
Another gurney raced out of a classroom with a child on it. "Out of the way!" a woman yelled as she and a man rolled it down the halls, and then lifted it down the stairs.
Heidi spread both hands over her face and cried. The rage was gone and replaced by heartbreak and sorrow. Her body rolled down to the floor as she wept.
The horrific scene began and ended before noon. Hours later the sky was orange with the glow of late afternoon sun. Heidi answered question after question from the back of the only ambulance that wasn't going to a hospital. It was being used as a temporary, on-site office for medics and police officers. Every few minutes she'd turn her head to see if more parents were able to take their children home. They'd pace frantically behind police lines, find their child, grab him or her, and weep with relief. Every few minutes Heidi would answer questions calmly, then cry uncontrollably. She knew some parents wouldn't be bringing their children home.
There'd been no official reports yet, but after relentless begging from Heidi for information, an EMT looked around when they were alone and then whispered, "Who's the tall, Hispanic lady at the front office?"
"Caroline Mendez?" It was the only person who fit that description.
His face frowned as he paused and looked at the floor. "She didn't make it."
"Oh God." she whimpered as she thought of the karaoke Christmas song the two of them sang at the holiday party. "Oh God." she whimpered again as she thought of Marcos and the boys.
"How many students?" she whispered.
"We don't have a final..." he looked her in the eyes. He looked around again, "So far, at least two."
A moment later a SWAT team investigator stepped into the truck as the EMT walked away. "Hello, Mrs. Moore."
"Just call me Heidi."
"Okay, Heidi. I'm officer Hamilton. How are you feeling?"
She said nothing and shrugged her shoulders.
"I'm so sorry about everything you've been through today." he said kindly.
She nodded. "Thank you."
"Despite this terrible situation, it looks like a hero has emerged." he said as he held up an iPad.
"A hero?" she replied with no emotion.
"That's right," he affirmed as he scrolled through several links, and then pressed PLAY.
A grainy video showed a woman at the end of a hallway exiting a classroom, stepping towards a stairway, then stepping back. For a moment she held a hammer in front of her face, then lowered it. Heidi realized that she was watching herself wrap her arm around a man in black, wrestle him into a wall, and then beat the hell out of him. Her eyes widened as she relived the experience...this time in third person. She watched herself take his gun and beat him with it, and then jump with a start. She placed her hand over her mouth as she watched herself get larger as she walked towards the camera, check on Mr. Phillips, and then walk under the camera and out of sight.
The officer stopped the video and said with eyebrows raised and a smirk, "Something tells me that if I check the library video, I'll see you shooting the other gunman. And I've heard several stories of evacuating your students out of your second floor window. I'm sure someone got THAT on camera too...not to mention what the officers out front say they recorded."
She was still staring at the iPad. She'd been so concerned about the children and coworkers that she hadn't taken the time to think back through what she'd done. It all came rushing back to her. The terror, the anger, the rush of blood to her face, the thoughts that had raced through her mind, the loud sounds exploding against her head and body, the rage. And finally...the satisfaction.
Heidi looked at the officer and asked, "Am I in trouble?"
"Are you kidding?" he said with a laugh, "This is the first time in history, as far as I know, that anyone has successfully, single-handedly, stopped more than one gunman in a situation like this. Especially at a school...and a teacher? Like I said, Heidi. You're going to be a hero."
Hero? That sounded odd. A hero flies with a cape or runs into burning buildings. As she thought through what had happened, she didn't remember feeling brave. She just felt...pissed.
She looked back up at the officer and said slowly, "Towards the end, I...I enjoyed it."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I enjoyed feeling the hammer crush his skull." she said, holding her hand out in front of her. She looked down, eyes wide. She clinched her teeth and explained, "I liked sitting on the second guy and watching his head bounce as I lifted and dropped it." she turned her hands over still looking at them.
The officer looked confused and alarmed. "Ma'am?"
"In all of your years as a cop, have you ever killed anyone?" she asked.
"Yes ma'am." he answered. "There was definitely adrenaline, especially if I had to chase them first. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it..."
"I enjoyed it." she replied, still looking into his eyes.
He didn't know how to respond.
She turned her eyes to the back of the truck watching families being restricted behind barriers as news crews set up their equipment. As she stared at it all she continued, "One minute I was huddling on the floor afraid for my life and the life of my kids. The next minute I was hanging their bodies out a window. And then the next minute, I was killing the men responsible for it all. I'm not even sure how I got from one moment to the next," she was gesturing with her hands as she explained, "but as I transitioned from being afraid to killing them, I felt it."
"Relief?" he asked.
She turned her face slowly, looked him in the eye, scowled and said in one, long slow word, "Satisfaction."
"Heidi, you should probably not say anything else. Just in case someone asks me to testify..."
"There's nothing else to say." she answered with a smile and looked back at the crowd.
He thought for a moment, and then walked out.
Sure enough, the word of her heroic actions began to spread. Heidi's phone buzzed over and over again with video clips being sent to her from all different sources showing all different angles of her actions. Slowly reporters made their way over to her and asked questions. She declined to answer the first two. Eventually she began giving partial answers, but with hesitation. Her answers were short and lacked details. It felt weird trying to describe the terrible things that had just happened before she'd had time to process it.
As Heidi walked across the front of the building, the brunette reporter from the local news station approached her from behind and placed her hand on Heidi's arm. "Heidi," she asked, "how about you and I walk around the corner to get away from these people and maybe we can just talk about what happened?"
Wow, she's good. Heidi thought, but agreed to follow her anyway. The conversation started with small yes-and-no questions, and Heidi answered with small answers. The reporter encouraged her little by little to elaborate on parts of the story. Soon the details were flowing out of her, and the reporter was silent as Heidi told her story from beginning to end.
After a moment of silence to reflect on what she just heard, the reporter finally said, "Heidi, everyone in America is going to see the videos on social media and the evening news. Most of them will speculate and come up with their own conclusions. How would you like for me to go get my camera man from the parking lot, bring him back here, and I'll let you tell the American people the same story you just told me? They need to hear it from you, Heidi."
Heidi thought for a minute. She hated the idea of speaking on camera, but what if her story could give people hope? What if she could encourage other teachers to stand up and fight? What if she could inspire the country to no longer tolerate violence in their schools and neighborhoods? She nodded her head, and the reporter quickly slipped around the corner to find her camera man.
The interview began calmly. The reporter started with, "Joining us tonight is Heidi Moore, 8th grade teacher at Franklin Middle School." Then she turned to Heidi and said, "Heidi, there's a rumor already spreading that you're a hero. How do you feel about that?"
"Oh, um...I don't know how I feel about it. It doesn't feel like they're talking about me. When the adrenaline starts racing through your mind, you just do what you feel like you have to do to keep yourself and your students safe.
"One gunman is dead, and the other seriously wounded, apparently both by you. Is that true?"
Awkwardly she answered, "Yes."
"So far, officers are saying that you shot the second gunman and dragged his body out of the front door. Is that true?"
Heidi squirmed, "Uh...yes." It felt weird talking about it already.
"Before that, we also have video of you breaking your classroom window, dropping your students to safety, and then running back in to face the shooters. Is that also..."
"Yes, it's true, but can we...look, any other teacher in the same situation would have done the same thing." Heidi felt herself becoming agitated, and for a moment she couldn't think of how to say what she wanted to get across. The reporter nodded and hesitated.
Finally the reporter asked, "Do you feel like tighter gun control laws could have prevented..."
"Oh my God!" Heidi interrupted loudly, rolling her eyes upward. "Are you seriously going to try to drag me into a political debate? Is that really what we need right now? More anger and fighting?" she shook her head and regretted agreeing to the interview.
"Well, um, would you like to give any details on what happened or the condition of your students and coworkers?" the reporter asked with hesitation.
Heidi felt her frustration rising. "Some of them are dead and others are injured!" she snapped. "Is that what you want to hear?" She pointed to the camera, "Is that what will draw in your ratings? Will it help you sell online ads?"
"I just thought..."
"No you didn't," Heidi interrupted. "You just want to start a fight. That's all you media people ever want anymore is to start battles!" she turned to walk away in disgust.
The reporter stepped forward and touched Heidi's shoulder, "But the American people need to know..."
Heidi turned to glare at the hand on her shoulder, then up at the woman touching her. "Are you serious?" she asked with the...oh hell, no...voice she'd used with disrespectful students in the past. The reporter stepped back.
Heidi looked back towards the camera and hesitated as she collected her thoughts. With hands on her hips and in a deep breath she finally said, "What the American people need to know is how YOU media people have contributed to this mess, this...cycle of violence. The American people don't always consider how YOU media people get richer and richer off of our misery." Every time she said the word YOU, she'd point her finger at the reporter, but still stared into the camera. "If YOU people truly care about ending these shootings, YOU'D stop posting the names and faces of the bastards who keep doing this." The fury she'd felt that morning was rising in her again. "In fact," she paused as an idea gathered in her head, "there should be laws passed that shut down any and all news organizations that DO publish shooter information. Shut 'em down and fine them for hundreds of millions of dollars. And every dime would go to the families of the victims. In fact, if YOU or any other news organization publishes the names or faces of these two assholes," now she was pointing at the camera, "I challenge everyone in America to boycott your station for no less than one year!"
The reporter looked nervously at the growing crowd that was gathering and at the camera man. She tried to take control of the conversation, "Well now that sounds like a first amendment..."
"Ha!" Heidi interrupted again. "Don't you EVEN try to hide behind the Constitution. All YOU reporters do is give these bastards the fifteen minutes of fame they're looking for. And every time you do it, another jackass gets a new idea for the next mass shooting!" she paused without noticing the two people in the crowd who clapped.
The reporter, tried to think of how to respond, "Well, um, that's an interesting perspective..."
"And you know what else?" Heidi interrupted, "They shouldn't be given proper burials either. Once all the police work has been done, the bodies of the gunmen should be dragged out into the desert and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave for the buzzards to pick apart." The crowd mumbled and most of them clapped. She shook her finger at the camera, "They don't deserve to rest in peace the way these dead children and teachers do. They should die nameless and faceless so that no one throughout history will ever know or care that they existed."
By now the entire crowd was cheering and clapping. Heidi couldn't see most of them with the camera lights in her eyes and the darkness of night behind them. She'd had enough and walked away without another word.
She spotted Jack. He'd only heard the last few seconds of what she'd said. He grabbed her hand as she whispered, "Take me home please."
The next morning Heidi woke to sunlight slicing through the edges of the blinds. She rolled over and fumbled for her clock. "Oh...so late." she mumbled.
Jack walked in. "Good morning, sleepy-head!"
"Hi hon," she replied rubbing both eyes and stretching.
"Ever had a fan-club before?" he asked.
"What?" she replied, rubbing her forehead.
He handed her phone to her as she tried to wake up quicker and focus her eyes. Her social media and text messages numbered in the hundreds, and her missed phone calls were in the dozens. "Holy crap!" she exclaimed as he pulled the blinds to one side.
"And there's the live version." he said as he pointed out the crowd across the street. Luckily the police were already there and holding them back.
Her eyes widened suddenly, "What's going on?"
He sat on the bed next to her, "Like it or not, babe, you're this week's American hero. I turned off the phone so you could sleep, but we had so many people knocking that I had to call the cops to set up crowd control."
"Are you serious? All because I helped kids escape and..."
"Oh no, that's only part of it. Have you seen yourself on that interview? It was, um...pretty entertaining. You really ripped that woman a new one." he said laughing.
"Ahh...I knew I'd make an ass of myself if I went on TV. I shouldn't have let her talk me into..."
"Are you kidding? People loved it. People across the country are calling for nation-wide boycotts on any media outlets who release the names or photos of those guys."
Her hands went immediately to her mouth. "Are you serious?" she mumbled through her fingers.
"Yep. Sounds like there's going to be a lot more shooter-trainings nationwide, too."
He scrolled and showed her page after page of social media and national news coverage of her comments. At first she cringed slightly, "Oh crud, look at my hair."
"Seriously?" he said as he tilted his head.
"But, oh my gosh, I can't believe people are actually doing it!" she said in a louder voice. She clicked on link after link, and watched video after video. As she learned more, Jack went into the kitchen to pour coffee. He brought hers to her.
"I am F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G out, honey!" she said in a high voice.
"Yep. I'm freaking out a little bit, too." he replied, sipping out of his mug.
"What do we do now?" she asked.
He paused and grinned, "Well, first, you need time to grieve and recover.”
She nodded in agreement.
“Then, once things calm down, something tells me you could win an election."
Her eyes grew wide as she crossed her arms, stared at him, and smiled.
About the Creator
Teacher, mom, believer in peaceful politics! Please feel free to send [constructive] criticisms on any of my works. My genres are: dark fiction, spiritual fiction, & articles on everything from improving politics to gardening & food.
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