This article contains videos with graphic content.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has made heavy the hearts of many watching as the events developed; none heavier than those who lost those they loved. Before “objectivity” is thrust into the limelight and arguments are made, I believe that it is important recognize that.

Regardless of what your political inclinations are, whether you’re currently vying for tighter gun control or struggling to retain the laws we have now, it’s important to look inside these shootings and get as close to them as possible. To not shy away from the tragic human loss factor here. While I would not recommend anyone filming with their cell phones during an event like this, it’s important that we absorb the footage that was taken to both learn and understand the reality of what goes on when these things happen.

I have been both on the civilian side of a combat scenario and on the tactical, professional side of it. In 8th grade, I was hiding under a desk in the library during a school shooting overseas, that took the lives of six. In my adult years, I went on several deployments to Afghanistan. Both gave me different perspectives that I would like to share here in the light of what has happened in Florida.

These videos can be hard to watch, especially if you’ve been through something like it before. No one ought to be exposed to this kind of violence, least of all children.

When the shooting starts, it can be difficult for the untrained mind to register what exactly is going on. During the school shooting at my school, my knee-jerk reaction was that someone was lighting off fireworks, as it was one of the popular kids’ birthday. Reports indicate that students in Parkland thought it was a drill, as they had already had a fire drill earlier that day. However, deep down in your gut, even myself as an 8th grader with virtually zero exposure to weapons, you know something is wrong. It’s probably the instinctive reaction to the very distinctive, staccato and unusually loud nature of gunfire.

Either way, never take the chance. I have seen time and time again, civilians and military personnel alike hear gunfire and react as if it must be something else.

This is what it sounds like.

There may be a chance to flee — a clear path to safety is sometimes an option. There may be a chance to set up a barricade — during the attack on my school, several were saved because they barricaded themselves in just enough to convince the shooters they would be better off moving on to a door that was unlocked. There may be a chance to fight — I desperately hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, then your best friend is all out, untamed aggression.


Fortunately, in the United States, you can count on law enforcement to have a fairly quick response time. Even in the most rural of areas, someone is going to be on your school’s doorstep relatively quickly. That was not the case during the shooting at my school, but due to several extenuating circumstances the shooters had to leave fairly quickly anyway.

When the police do come in, it’s important to do whatever they say, exactly when they say it. I’ve been on their side, at least in a warzone, and in a volatile situation you never know who is a threat and who isn’t. The shooter may be hiding among a group of students he has held hostage, and may open fire as soon as the police enter. However, they realize that their first priority is not their own safety, it’s the safety of those inside the school. If their own safety was their first priority, they would not be there in the first place.

These cops shoulder a significant risk when they enter and clear these rooms. It’s important to remain calm, actively listen, and do what they say as quickly and deliberately as possible.

I would also like to note the teacher in the video below. She doesn’t know that cops are the ones bursting through the door — she can’t be sure, anyway. But she stands over her students regardless.

The aftermath can be a little surreal. My friend and I wound up being two that volunteered to clean some of the blood off the outside of my school. No one else was doing it, camera crews were flooding around the school, waiting to get in, and it just didn’t seem right to let it stay there like that. So we cleaned — two 13 years olds hosing down and scrubbing off blood and a few chunks of flesh off the side of my school. Though I wouldn’t say that act was particularly traumatizing to me, it has definitely stuck in my head since then.

Grief counselors were made available and several systems were at work to help us readjust. It was very helpful for some, while others were better at bouncing back. Everyone is different. However, I will say that the attack on my school showed me the absolute resilience of children. I would go so far as to say that, speaking in general terms, the children were less psychologically damaged by the event than the adults. However, I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, so I can’t speak with any authority on that matter — just a personal observation.

The one, most practical piece of advice I can give: get yourself trained on first responder skills, and do it now — even if you think you’ve mastered these skills, because they’re absolutely perishable. First aid is going to be by far the most useful thing the average person can do in a situation like this, and believe me, there is nothing worse than feeling useless (helpless) when these things happen. Stop the Bleed has some free courses nation-wide, as well as other local programs you can look into. There is no reason why children and adults alike shouldn’t be signing up for these kinds of programs and preparing themselves.

I wrote more about the difference between being a civilian in combat and a Ranger in combat here.

Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.