Her name was Bailey Nicole Holt. She was 15, and going to school just like every other day. She was a happy young woman, working hard towards her dream of being a labor and delivery nurse. She was probably gathered with her friends in the commons, talking and getting ready for another day of classes. She might have been standing next to her boyfriend.
She lived in Benton, Kentucky, a rural community of 4,500 people. A community that would be shaken to its core the morning of January 23, 2018, when one of their young high schoolers walked into school with a gun and randomly started shooting. As one witness described, the shooting was nothing like what they expected:
‚ÄúNo one screamed. It was almost completely silent as people just ran. [The shooter] just ran out of ammo and couldn‚Äôt do anything else.‚Äù
As news of the shooting spread, Bailey‚Äôs mother frantically called her cell phone. Eventually, Bailey called her back ‚Äî but never spoke. As Bailey‚Äôs mother reported to WKRN-TV, ‚Äúall I could hear was voices, chaos in the background. She couldn‚Äôt say anything and I tried to call her name over and over and over and she never responded.‚Äù
Her mother waited at the buses that arrived bringing students to safety. Bailey was not among them.
Bailey ‚Äî along with Preston Ryan Cope, also 15 ‚Äî died in the shooting. Seventeen others were injured, including Bailey‚Äôs boyfriend. The shooter, another 15-year-old, is in police custody.
Benton, Kentucky, is less than an hour from where I live. Like nearly all communities in Kentucky, it is tight-knit. You recognize people when you go to the store. You say ‚Äòhello‚Äô and have 15-minute conversations with the Wendy‚Äôs girl because she‚Äôs so friendly. Everyone cares and is polite. You go through our town ‚Äî any town ‚Äî and think, ‚ÄúNothing could happen here.‚Äù
But it does. And the sad truth is, it happens everywhere.
As I write this, we are 26 days into 2018. And in just the first 23 of those 26 days, there were 11 school shootings. ELEVEN. That‚Äôs one every other day. Whether a high school in small-town Kentucky or a college campus in Southern California, school shootings have become normal.
That is infuriating. Heartbreaking. Beyond believable.
I remember active shooter drills in high school. It was shortly after Columbine. The nation was tense. They wanted us to be prepared. Our drills consisted of learning how to turn the lights off, duck and cover, hide anywhere we could fit. They also consisted of practice bomb raids, with the local SWAT team coming in, helping us out to the football field, where we sat for what felt like hours just talking or reading or doing homework. It became routine, oddly normal. Another free period where we didn‚Äôt have to do anything.
Years later, as I was a then step-parent to a 7-year-old, I remember hearing about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I was in my graduate class, but immediately left. I couldn‚Äôt handle the lives lost, or the thought that my stepson was in school. When I went to pick him up, his first question was about why they practiced for a shooting, why the school was locked up. The NPR news that afternoon, which we listened to together every day, prompted more questions.
‚ÄúMommy, what should I do if he comes for me?‚Äù
His voice echoes in my mind today.
I have never been part of a school shooting. I thank heaven for that fact. But every time I hear of one, I cry. I cry for the young girl in the football field who thought the drills were normal. I cry for the little boy I once held as he shuddered thinking about school the next day, and whether some random person would kill him. I cry for the young lives that have been lost to gun violence, whether at school, home, or just out in their communities. ¬†I cry for their loved ones, who will never have the chance to say ‚ÄúI love you‚Äù or ‚Äúgoodbye.‚Äù
I cry because this nation has yet – in all these years – to face the glaringly obvious fact: Gun violence will continue to claim lives. We must act. For Bailey. For my former stepson. For the girl I once was. For the youth we promised a safe world.
We must recognize that gun violence is the result of four primary factors: (1) the lack of gun control laws and enforcement of those laws; (2) a lack of education of our youth about how to handle stress, bullying, and engage in appropriate coping mechanisms; (3) a lack on the part of parents, teachers, and school administrators to stand up to bullying and domestic violence with zero tolerance policies, counseling, and intervention; and (4) a society which continues to stigmatize mental health issues and therefore dissuade those who need it to seek the help, counseling, and services that will help them live more fulfilling lives.
I have been to counseling. I am in it now. I am proud of it, and feel that it was one of the best decisions of my life.
I support stricter gun legislation, and would support policies like those in the U.K. and other countries where gun violence is far less prevalent.
I support making a concerted, conscious, and comprehensive effort to address all of the factors that lead to gun violence, at the federal, state, and local levels.
Because I don‚Äôt want to hear about another Bailey. Another Preston. I don‚Äôt want to hold my children as they become afraid of school – a place where they should only experience compassion, friendship, and a love of learning. I don‚Äôt want to fail 14-year-old me, who became so numb to the mere possibility of being shot that she now faces a world in which she is afraid to step out of her home and travel the world.
We must give Bailey, and all those who suffered her fate, justice. Not just by prosecuting their shooters, but by providing comprehensive solutions to the factors that led to such violence. I truly believe she would want a world in which we are no longer afraid of being shot at 7:57 a.m. on a bright, sunny morning at school.
– Tiffany Rhoades
Girl Museum, Inc.