SILVER SPRING TOWNSHIP, Pa. – When Maddie Levy saw the students fleeing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month, she saw something familiar.
She saw her reflection.
“What if it happened here?” Levy, a junior at Cumberland Valley High School, in suburban Harrisburg, Pa., asked, already knowing the answer.
“Parkland isn’t any different from our school,” she said. “They’re kids, just like us, that are going through this.” They’re kids going through an experience that’s “absolutely terrifying.”
But it’s “not surprising at all,” chimed in Madeline Bailey, who, like Levy, is a junior.
“It’s very possible it could happen in a place like this,” she said, her voice more flat and practical than any 11th-grader’s should be of the prospect of facing down AR-15 fire in her school’s broad and clean hallways.
Like Bailey, Madison Himler, who was seated a few feet away, said she honestly wasn’t surprised when she heard that another shooting had occurred.
“And we’re at a point now where we might start becoming desensitized to things,” Himler offered. “Something definitely needs to happen.”
This is the Sandy Hook generation, the young people who have come of age at a time where wholesale slaughter in the hallways of America’s public schools is depressingly commonplace.
And they’re tired of it.
They’re tired of the fear, the safety drills and, most of all, they’re tired of the hard reality there may be no safe place for them when a classmate or some other psycho finally has that bad day that drives them over the edge.
“Something definitely needs to happen.”
And like the students at Parkland, these Pennsylvania students have found their voices.
On March 14, Levy and her classmates are planning to walk out of class as part of National School Walkout Day. They’re also planning a rally of their own, four days later, in the nearby college town of Carlisle, Pa.
“We”re calling for people to come together — this is a bipartisan movement,” Levy said of the March 18 event, which she framed as a search for solutions by gun-control advocates and pro-gun forces alike. “That might take the shape of gun control. We’re not proposing a specific solution.”
On a recent school day, Cumberland Valley’s hallways were still filled with students. In a corridor near the main office, students sat in clumps on the floor, their backpacks and books spilled out around them. Others stood in knots of friends, their laughter and chatter filling up the space.
It’s any high school. In any town. Anywhere.
But what if it did happen here?
These kids on the floor; the ones in the hallway; Levy and her friends. Still students, they become targets. And it would be appallingly easy for someone to mow them down.
And so they practice, so that if the unthinkable does happen, they’re ready.
Or as ready as anyone can ever be for that kind of thing.
“It would come on the announcement that we’re having a lockdown,” Anjana Ramesh said. “And then we’d all have to close, to lock our doors; and turn off the lights, and like, huddle in a corner.”
That’s when Bailey adds, with the kind of sarcastic laugh that no 17-year-old should be able to muster: “You sit in a corner and pray you don’t get shot.”
The young women all laugh too, but it’s a kind of knowing laughter. They know hiding in a corner and pretending that no one’s there is an empty gesture.
“If a shooter was to come in, they would be smarter than to think that a school was just completely empty on a school day,” says Adriane Delicana. “So I think these intruder drills aren’t really doing anything to help us.”
Himler’s words echo again.
“Something definitely needs to happen.”
So maybe when this is when it all happens. Maybe we’ve hit the tipping point.
After years of “thoughts and prayers” that ring pathetically hollow from an utter lack of action, maybe in the words and deeds of the Parkland kids who have stormed social media and daytime TV. Maybe in the high school kids like Levy and Bailey and Himler and Ramesh who will walk out of class next week, this when it all starts to change.
Because, dear God, no high school kid should have to sit in a corner and pray she doesn’t get shot.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.