It was just before midnight when the phone rang. With a bit of hesitation and an unsettled feeling in my gut, I reached over to answer it, and could see from the caller ID it was my son. All I could think was, nothing good comes from late night calls – especially from a child miles away at college.
And I was right.
It wasn’t good.
In fact, the news was terrifying. Campus police and the SWAT team were on their way to my son’s dorm suite. I was 300 miles away and desperately wanted to be with my son.
Just a few weeks prior to the call, my son was anxiously preparing for his first year at college, shopping for dorm supplies, texting his new roommates, excited to meet the guys. Ready to be on his own and start this next chapter of his life. I, on the other hand, was anxiously worrying about the people he would meet, whether they would be good influences, and how he would adjust to his new life.
Any fears that I had about his roommates revolved around his being able to get along with them and the normal personality conflicts that arise from moving in with a stranger (or in this case four other strangers). It had never occurred to me that I should be fearful about my son living with a person who could potentially harm him or others.
When my son called that night, it was one of the calls that no parent wants to get. A call that could have been worse, if not for the grace of God. A call that will certainly haunt the lives of four young men and one that has ultimately altered one young man’s bright future forever.
That fateful October night on a quiet Florida campus, one of my son’s roommates had decided to sneak a gun into their shared dorm suite, pointed it at another roommate, and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked, but miraculously the chamber was empty. Empty. Thank God. For a moment forever etched in time, my son’s roommate came face to face with death and the realization that life can change in a split second.
As I listened to my son tell the story, my thoughts went back to his safety and I was grateful beyond belief he was not in the dorm when this happened. The incident happened just as my son was pulling into the student parking lot on his way home from his part-time job. The frantic texts and calls from his other roommates were being sent warning him not to go inside.
The thing that haunts me is the timing. If not for my son’s job, he would have been in the dorm with his other roommates and would have witnessed this horrifying event. Or worse, he could have been the target that night. Lucky. The thought that he got lucky was all that would calm me down.
His roommates managed to flee the scene and contact the campus police. Within minutes the police had their gun-toting roommate in custody.
There are so many questions that keep swirling in my head, and quite honestly, I’m still freaking out. How did an 18-year old student get his hands on a semi-automatic weapon and manage to get it on campus? Was he playing a sick joke or was he angry at the other roommate and wanted to harm him? Were there signs of dangerous behavior this student displayed that four other young men missed? What if that gun was loaded? The list of dizzying questions goes on and on.
I keep asking myself what was going on in the mind of this young man and what was going on in his life, that would cause him to want to do this? Would stricter gun laws have made a difference? I’m not sure. Far too many incidents like this are happening across this country and on school campuses and far too many people are losing their lives. My son’s roommate was lucky. Lucky, that precious word again. Lucky this time, but the nightmares of this incident will stay with him forever.
Of all the worries we have about sending our children off to college, often miles, cities and states away, we usually don’t worry about their roommate pulling out a semi-automatic weapon and taking aim at them. I don’t blame the university, they had policies in place to prevent such things. I don’t blame the young man’s parents, they didn’t know their son had a gun or how on earth he got his hands on one. I don’t blame the other student who knew this kid, as they never had any clues that he would do this. The only person to blame is the young man who made the decision to possess a gun and to act foolishly with it.
Instead of focusing on the blame, what I will do is thank God, thank the campus police and count down the days until I can squeeze my son and hug him tight. What I hope every parent reading this does is talk to their college children and let them know gun violence is real, that it can happen on any campus at any time, even in their own dorm. Gun control may or may not be the answer, but educating our children on the dangers and what to look for will be a start.