The Tenleytown Shooting Should Have Felt Like a Bigger Deal

Digital illustration by Ivy Sand.

On Friday, Nov. 18, gunshots were reported outside of Jackson-Reed High School just after 2:45 p.m. Jackson-Reed was put into lockdown and Deal Middle School and Lafayette Elementary School were promptly placed under an “alert status.” Soon after, GDS was placed under a shelter-in-place order, not allowing students to leave or enter the building.

I remember when the first announcement was made. I was sitting in my European history class, finishing up a review for the next test. A flood of texts alerted my phone, with friends from GDS sending me rumors of what they had heard about the shooting, most of which came from Twitter. As the announcement of the shelter-in-place came through the intercom, a sense of confusion overwhelmed me. 

There were many unanswered questions at the time. Were people harmed? Was the shooter attempting to come to GDS? It was difficult to process an event that was so unexpected. The threat of gun violence felt foreign and I was surprised to see it occuring so close to me. My heart began to race thinking about what I would text my parents and the concern that they would feel.

When the reality of the situation became apparent and it was clear that GDS wasn’t a direct target, I, along with many of my peers, began to ease up. School activities resumed under the shelter-in-place order. I stayed after school to work backstage on the school play. But as the company got actors ready without knowing if the show would go on, every student in the building was asked to move to the basement.

I once again was confused—what if the threat had developed into something more imminent? At the time, no one knew why we were ordered to move downstairs. As everyone formed their own clusters in the turf room, “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus blasted through someone’s speaker. Many began to dance in the center of the room, and I joined as well, acting as if nothing was happening outside of GDS. Students were laughing and talking about normal, everyday things, with the uncertainty still looming as to what the situation actually was.

I opened TikTok on my phone. The first thing that popped up on my For You Page was a video of a Jackson-Reed student dancing to BlocBoy JB’s “Shoot” while hiding in the corner of a classroom during their lockdown. I giggled at the fact that someone could make a comedic video out of such a serious event. A few TikToks later, more Jackson-Reed students were dancing in a sped up video with the caption, “Slay we survived the shooting.”

After coming home, I thought about my and others’ reactions to the day’s events. My feeling of safety at school was questioned for the first time in my high school career. I thought about how nonchalant we were, dancing and laughing in the basement. There was a momentary shock that most of us experienced when the incident was announced, but it quickly faded. I felt emotionally unaffected. 

The threat of gun violence has become so normalized in people’s everyday lives that, when it came close to the GDS community, students remained largely unfazed. This impending threat across the United States has made people desensitized to an event that should create panic. As of Nov. 22, there have been 607 mass shootings in 2022. This number is more than almost every other country in the world. To me, if the situation materialized into a mass shooting, it would have been an insignificant addition to the hundreds that occur so frequently in this country. 

Because gun violence is common in many people’s lives, we forget to think about the trauma that it causes—even though GDS wasn’t under a direct attack, lives could have easily been at stake. I hope that someday, everyone, including me, will understand the severity of gun violence—that we shouldn’t have been dancing and laughing in the basement. If the threat of gun violence were to affect GDS in the future, it is important to treat the situation with a greater level of apprehension.