The frustration and anger parents carry after a school shooting is a product of fear. We understand, either consciously or subconsciously, that our children are at risk and that hurts. But, as sharp as that pain may be, it’s a mere abstraction compared to the existential threat kids who might die grapple with during routine active shooter drills. I know this because for the last two days I’ve been on Twitter reading messages from kids tagged #IfIDieInASchoolShooting. I’ve been doing this obsessively, sorting responses into piles of defiance, anger, and thoughtfulness. I can’t stop myself even though consuming these things feels like chewing glass.
The tag was started with little fanfare by Twitter user Andrew Schneidawind (@SoldierSchnyd) who posted that, if he were killed in a school shooting, he’d become a martyr, never see his sister again, and end a burgeoning career in animation. It was a joke, but not a joke. It was also inspiring. It didn’t take long for other kids to join in. Clearly, the thought of dying in a school shooting is very real and present for American kids. Strikingly, the first few posts with the hashtag were centered around the melancholy of what would be left behind — a litany of those things kids care about the most: dogs, siblings, and the future.
I'm gonna try and get a hashtag trending called #IfIdieInASchoolShooting. If you wanna join, feel free. #IfIdieInASchoolShooting I will never be able to finish my animated TV series, I'll never be able to see my sister again, and I will have to become a martyr. #NeverAgain
— Andrew Schneidawind (@SoldierSchnyd) May 20, 2018
#IfIDieInASchoolShooting I will never be able to graduate, to join the army, to go to my dream college, become a social worker, get married, have children and with them grow up. If I die in a school shooting, I will never be able to change the world.
— Emily Hoffman (@ehhoffman12) May 21, 2018
— Marianna Dawson (@cococ41310) May 21, 2018
There’s something very powerful and devastating about considering these futures snuffed out. So many kids do have a desire to change the world. The thought of so much energy and desire being snuffed out only amplifies what potential has been lost in the few months between Parkland and Texas.
Even more striking is the anger that these kids have. It’s eerie to hear kids call for their deaths to be politicized, hoping that if their lives are obliterated, then maybe the fact of their cold bodies might be enough to prompt action. And if they had their way, they would make damn sure the people they see as standing in the way of progress would see their obstruction amounted to the loss of a human person.
#IfIDieInASchoolShooting dump my body in front of the White House.
— john barnitt (@John_Barnitt) May 20, 2018
#IfIDieInASchoolShooting please politicize the fuck out of my death. please use my death as activism to prevent others from dying. please put my body in the NRA parking lot
— ian quick (@ianquick_) May 20, 2018
— Michael Pincus (@michaelpincus26) May 20, 2018
But as a father, what really drives the point of all of this home are those who post about the grief their parents would endure. The same grief so many have already been forced to endure.
#IfIdieInASchoolShooting my parents would have no children, they will be daughterless and heartbroken. I would be lost in the endless names of children killed each year in school shootings. I will never become an EMT, Wife, and Mother. Slowly my presence would fade away.
— jordan (@thunderthiighs) May 20, 2018
#IfIDieInASchoolShooting then my parents would have outlived their only child.
— Estef #DouglasStrong (@estef4change) May 20, 2018
My projects wont be finished.
My boyfriend will be all alone.
My parents will have lost another kid.
Friends will be abandoned.
Politicize my death. Make it mean something. Cover my grave with daisies and stuffed animals. I live to make a difference
— boo (@Boo4Change) May 20, 2018
After reading these tweets — and a lot more — it’s very clear to me that I have to take some sort of action. Do I know what to do? I absolutely do not. But I’m gutted by this and by the idea that my boys will someday be forced to confront their own mortality in order to attend English class. I do not want my boys to have to consider their own murders. So, yeah, I don’t have a plan just yet, but some activism is in order — and not Twitter activism either.