The first four years of my educational experience were spent at a two-room school, Egan, located just east of Kalispell. I have no idea if my parents worried about anything when they dropped me off at school, more likely they felt pure joy to be away from my pestering for a few hours. I’m quite sure, however, that they did not worry about someone showing up with a gun and killing us all.
The assumption and the perception that schools are safe (statistically, they still are one of the safest places for a child) changed on April 20, 1999, with the Columbine massacre, in Littleton, Colorado. There have been sporadic shootings at schools since they opened, but until Columbine they were almost always because of grievances between a few people and the conflict limited to those individuals. This was the first time that the killing was mostly indiscriminate with the goal of killing as many people as possible.
The sickening progression of senseless slayings in schools from Columbine until now, set us up for what happened in our remote little valley. Schools and businesses were paralyzed by cruel cyber threats made credible because of the reality of the horrifically evil school shootings that have occurred since that infamous day in Littleton, Colorado.
It’s like the little boy at the dike with his finger keeping the flood waters out. He leaves, and there is a great reservoir of evil waiting to pour forth. Once the finger has been removed it can never be replaced, and what was formerly unthinkable and unacceptable becomes a diabolical part of our new reality.
This is the point in the column where I should tell you what we need to do, who is to blame, and how to fix it. But, I don’t know. I wish I did. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, a man with such a grim visage that a single glare would send any criminal intentions I might be harboring into full flight, gave a press conference after the recent tragic school shooting at Freeman High School near Spokane and he presents a thought provoking analysis of what is wrong. Check it out.
Safe schools might be the only thing we, no matter our political, religious or any other differences, can agree upon. Columbia Falls, who bore the brunt of the cowardly cyber attack, is doing well in standing together, but it’s going to be a long haul. It is fortunate that we have law enforcement and school administrators who do not regard this as a nine-to-five job, and are committed to working as long and as hard as necessary to resolve the issue. We need to remember that when it comes time to vote on bond issues, operating levies, and public safety requests for funding. When the crisis is upon us, we want the best, not the cheapest.
Most of all, we need to remember that this is something we must face as a community. We can argue about all sorts of stuff, nothing wrong with that, but on this one issue, school safety, let us focus with laser like intensity on the goal – the safety and well being of our children.
Joe Brenneman is a rancher, farmer and former Flathead County commissioner.