I had the strangest premonition last weekend.
We were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the high school bleachers in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, watching hundreds of band students perform on the field. About 30 school bands from around the region had gathered for a competition.
Maybe it was because the entire area was so tightly packed with students, teachers and parents. I glanced at the crowd around me. The thought hit me suddenly.
"What if a gunman starts firing?"
Maybe it's because of that story of the mom who ran past armed police to get to her children inside Uvalde Elementary School, where 19 children and two teachers were shot to death.
"How could I even protect my kid here?"
Just a couple of days later, one of my closest friends sent a frantic text: There was an active shooter at her child's school. Her daughter was safe. Then came a text from another friend, who wrote to say her child had stayed home that day. Also safe.
But a student and a health teacher were killed at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis on Oct. 24. Seven more were injured. This happened in a school that has metal detectors, locked doors and security officers.
Parents send their children to school dreading this kind of nightmare.
Maybe my anxiety was already heightened because Texas lawmakers recently decided to send DNA collection kits to parents. You know, in case their babies' bodies are too mangled by a shooter firing an AR-15 in a classroom to be identified. Gov. Greg Abbott thinks this is a better idea than making guns harder to obtain for the potentially violent and homicidal.
My colleagues at the paper rushed to CVPA and reported harrowing details, like the account from Dakota Willard, 14, who attends Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience -- also housed in the CVPA building. Willard said he saw what looked like one person, a girl, down at the end of the hallway that joins the two schools.
He said it looked like she was trying to run away by the way she was lying on the floor.
"What I saw was traumatizing," Willard said, but added, "I'm OK. I don't need any special help."
You do need special help, Dakota. We all do. We are all traumatized. Those of us who have felt panic receiving a lockdown message from our kids' schools. Those of us who have grieved a loved one lost to gun violence. Those of us who have lived through an active shooting at a mall, at work, at a concert, at the movies, at school. Those of us who have said over and over again that we don't have to live this way. That mass shootings happen this frequently only in America.
Because of our gun laws. Because of the gun lobby. Because of craven politicians. Because of worthless thoughts and prayers.
Missouri has some of the worst gun laws in the country. There's no law requiring background checks on unlicensed gun sales. People can carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit or safety training. There are no laws prohibiting domestic abusers from possessing guns. Republican lawmakers even passed a law that prohibits local police and highway patrols from enforcing several federal gun laws.
I thought about that when I read the words from Tonya Neal, a parent whose daughter attends CVPA: At 9:19 a.m., she received a text from her daughter that read, "Mom, I love you."
Neal didn't realize until later that there was an active shooter at the school. Her daughter is safe.
Her baby might have wanted to tell her mom she loved her one last time.
This is what we've trained our children to do.
Because our lawmakers have failed to protect them.