When high school security staffer Tony Harris was visited by Head of School Russell Shaw after the shooting at Edmund Burke School, he told Shaw that his goal was to return to work one year from the day of his injury.
Harris accomplished his goal when he returned to GDS on Monday, April 24—the first weekday after his target date. He was shot on April 22, 2022, after a man opened fire during dismissal at Burke, a private middle and high school less than two miles away from GDS. After over a month in the hospital, roughly three months in dialysis and one year in recovery, Harris has now returned to work as a full-time member of the high school security team.
Members of the GDS community celebrated Harris’ return with an assembly in the Forum on his first day back. Students and staff held up cutouts of his face, and as Harris entered the school, the crowd rose in applause.
Other festivities during the assembly included a game oriented around Harris’ life, led by high school counselor Gabrielle Holder, and the distribution of donuts—one of Harris’ favorite desserts.
“I was doing my best not to cry,” Harris said. “It was so overwhelming. I was truly appreciative and grateful, but I definitely had to do everything I possibly could to hold back tears of joy for the love that you all showed me that day.”
Harris briefly addressed the crowd during the assembly. “I realize life is a gift. It can be taken away from you any day, in the blink of an eye,” he said. “We must still live, not in fear. Just live our lives and enjoy every day to the fullest, always.”
Harris said he spoke at Edmund Burke and delivered speeches at various locations prior to his return to GDS. “When I came to Georgetown Day I had no speech prepared,” Harris told the Bit. “The words that I said to you all that day came right out from the heart.”
“That was super motivational and really inspiring for the students to hear,” sophomore Clio Blum said of Harris’ words at the assembly. “I was talking with some of my friends about it and they were expressing relief that he was able to make a full recovery but also just admiration for him.”
“My recovery was definitely a long, uphill battle,” Harris said. He was bedridden in the hospital and unable to move or use the bathroom on his own. “Those were some very dark days for me when I was in the hospital. I was unsure of my rehabilitation.”
Harris lost 45 pounds and had his kidney removed. When he was discharged from the hospital on June 10, he still required the assistance of others in his daily routine. “Even though I wasn’t happy with the quality of life that I was experiencing at the time, I still was living and was able to fight for my life everyday with a positive attitude,” Harris said in an interview with the Bit.
“I did receive a great deal of not only family support, but support from friends, from co-workers. I was getting more support than I could really handle,” he added. “My daughter was very instrumental in my recovery.”
Eventually, Harris progressed from inpatient physical therapy to outpatient physical therapy. “I started slowly seeing my weight come back on. I got to a point where I was able to chew food again,” he said.
Harris was unsure whether he would achieve his goal to return to work one year after his injury. “I didn’t know for sure if that was going to become a reality, but I did know I was going to work hard every day to make it become a reality,” he said. “That’s when I started my serious road to recovery—after I made that statement on wanting to return back to work.”
Two months before his return, Harris knew that he would be able to accomplish his goal because he was consistently improving in physical therapy. “As it got close, I had to really get myself mentally prepared,” he said. One week before his return, he began to wake up regularly at 4 a.m.—the time he woke up prior to his injury to prepare for his 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift.
Although Harris previously worked several part-time jobs, he is now working eight hours a day exclusively at GDS. “Just to come back working full time is a lot, because initially the doctors suggested that maybe I just go to work for four hours a day,” he said.
“My thing with Tony is that he’s always just walking around checking on everybody,” crossing guard Dorothea Johnson said. “He’s always got a kind word for everybody.”
Harris has worked at GDS for over 20 years, initially part-time and later full-time. He was responsible for the recruitment of traffic officers at GDS, Burke and The Lab School of Washington.
Director of Security Shelley Harris said that during his absence, Tony Harris’ position was filled by four traffic officers who have now returned to their usual positions. “Tony wanted to get back to his normal self,” she said. “I’m glad that he was able to do it.” There is no relation between Shelley Harris and Tony Harris.
“You fought for yourself, you fought for your family, and you fought for this school community,” Shelley Harris said to Tony Harris at his assembly. “You guys could have just showed up with two balloons and stood in that entryway and that still would’ve been enough for Tony,” she said of the GDS community in an interview with the Bit.
“I never gave up. I was determined to reclaim my life that I felt was snatched away from me,” Tony Harris said to the crowd. “I love everybody here. I love GDS. I am GDS. I am a hopper.”