When my phone buzzed at 930 pm and I saw my friend’s name on the screen, I knew something was amiss. This wasn’t a friend who called during Grey’s Anatomy without good reason.
And I was right.
With a panicked voice, my friend asked me if I’d spoken to my daughter, if she’d told me anything unusual about her school day and I shook my head as she spoke. Without giving me too many details, she asked me to wake up my daughter and ask her about a conversation with a student at school earlier in the day.
“It’s important and you need to hurry. Wake her up,” she urged.
After quickly telling my husband to follow me, we barreled into my daughter’s room, the light of the hallway shining on her groggy face as she sat up in bewilderment.
When she heard what we asked, she started to cry.
As the words tumbled out of her mouth, my blood ran cold.
The student had threatened to bring a gun to school and hurt students. In talking to my daughter, he gave very specific details, details that made my husband and I start to shake.
And in that moment, the moment every parent dreads, I was shocked to realize that I had no idea what to do or who to contact.
Here’s what I learned that night.
1). Your teen might not come to you right away with information about a threat.
Though our daughter heard the student make the threat, she didn’t want to believe that a student she knew well would actually want to hurt fellow students. Put simply, she was in shock and she tried to put it out of her mind. Though something in her gut told her the situation was serious, she was afraid she would be ruining a student’s reputation.
Since this incident, my husband and I have had many discussions about trusting the years of safety training and information she’s had instilled over the years. And we’ve reminded her that any threat at school is one to be taken seriously.
2). Call the police immediately, even if it’s just a suspicion.
After much discussion and because of the late hour, my friend and I were unsure of how to get in touch with the school district. Attempts to contact a trusted teacher and principal via email proved futile and we called the police for help. The police officers met us at her house and immediately took charge of the situation. They assured us that we did the right thing by notifying authorities. “It’s your job to be the parents and our job to protect the community,” the officer told us. It was a relief to watch the flurry of activity that ensued because we knew we’d made the right call.
3). Your teen will have to make a statement to the police and that can be terrifying.
As I watched my daughter giving information to the police officer, I was dizzy. If I had to do it over again, I’d have talked to her about the realities of reporting a security threat well before it ever happened. If your child needs to speak with authorities, they will likely have to make a written statement and remember very precise details about the threat. And, if your child is nervous, it can be a very stressful experience. Talk to your teen about not being afraid to speak to administrators and police officers and remind them they will never get in trouble with authorities for speaking up.
4). Trust the process and let the authorities do their jobs.
As a terrified parent, my first instinct was to want to follow the police officers to the student’s house and demand answers. Obviously, I didn’t but it was harder than I expected to watch the officers leave to start investigating the situation. And, because the student in question was a minor, his privacy was maintained, too. Not having information was maddening but I learned that I had to trust our authorities to make the right calls for my kids and their classmates.
5). You will be surprised at how much compassion you have for the parents of the student making the threat.
No parent wakes up in the morning and expects to have officers banging on their door by late evening because their child has made a threat to those around them. As I lay in bed the night of the incident, my heart went out to the student’s parents because I know how terrified I would be if my son or daughter were in serious trouble. I thought in a moment like this that I’d be angry, and I was, but I mostly felt compassion and sadness for the student’s family.
6). Learn to ask more specific questions about your teen’s day at school.
Since this incident, I have become more attuned to the details of my kids’ days. I no longer ask rhetorically “How was your day?” choosing instead to ask more specific questions about the sights and sounds they experienced during the day. I ask them about their friends’ moods and activities and I ask about the interactions they witnessed in the hallways. Together, we are learning to be more in tune with our surroundings so that we can all learn more fully to trust our instincts.
Thankfully, due to the stellar work of our school district and multiple police departments, this situation was thwarted and the student received the proper help and support. I have tried to stop thinking about the “What ifs” and have to focused on the gratitude I have for the friend who trusted her instincts late that night. And I hold my kids a little tighter every day when I hug them before school.
This author wishes to remain anonymous.