‘Why would someone have a gun at school?’

by Brian Clarey

A group of kids. A tussle on the street. Somebody’s got a gun. Bang bang bang. Everybody runs off.

Happens every day.

But it doesn’t happen every day in front of my kids’ school.

My two sons were among the Bluford Elementary school children ushered into the closets of their classrooms as their teachers locked the doors and told them to hush. This happened after a burst of gunfire just outside the building on Tuscaloosa Street sent the school into lockdown.

Bluford exists in a corner carved by Lee Street and Highway 29, on the same campus as Dudley High School. Around it blooms a tidy neighborhood of postwar brick cottages, new modular homes and space-age split-levels, with clipped lawns, cars in the driveways, trash at the curb. It is a neighborhood of working families, politically active, and well aware of the community jewel that is Bluford Elementary.

My 7-year-old was playing in his room when I got home that night. He had a line of pirates on the floor and was readying them for an imaginary battle, clipping tiny swords into their hands, arming others with pistols. The big toy pirate ship sailed on the carpet next to him, awaiting its hale and hearty crew.

“So,” I said, keeping it cool, “what happened at school today?”

He thought for a moment, then brightened.

“The tooth fairy came!” he said, showing me that brand-new gap in his smile.

She did come, by the way, while he was at school, as opposed to her usual MO of slipping into the house in the dead of night. Sometimes, in my house, the tooth fairy sleeps in.

“Did anything else happen?”

“Yeah,” he said. “We had to hide in the closet.”

I hunkered down on the carpet beside him and his magnificent seafaring brigands.

“Do you have any questions about it?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said, fingering a tiny plastic pistol, smaller than a toothpick, “why would someone have a gun at school?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Guns are for hurting people.”

“And why would they want to shoot a third-grader?” he asked me.

“Well,” I said, “they weren’t shooting at the third-graders. There were some boys in the street outside, and they were fighting. And one of them had a gun and he shot it a couple of times. The third-graders were just nearby. And nobody got shot.”

“We had to hide in the closet,” he said. “We were laughing.”

And then he went back to his conquest of the high seas.

Kids are remarkable in their resiliency. It’s the adults who are afraid.

I went to the school the next day looking for answers. The teachers and staff could speak to me as a parent, but none of their comments were on the record. I got my real answers from the looks on the teachers’ faces: fear, yes, but mingled with confidence, a sense of purpose, the exhilaration of responding well in a crisis.

They performed admirably. Within moments of the shooting the third-graders were in from the playground and the school locked down. And to their credit, none betrayed to their students the enormity of the incident.

What my oldest son will remember from his first lockdown will not be a moment of fear and pandemonium, but that somebody in his second-grade class farted while they were secured in the closet.

In my youngest son, a Bluford kindergartener, the event barely registered at all. He’s looking forward to Friday, when they get slushies at lunch.

The teachers and staff did their bit, to be sure, and the Greensboro Police Department responded in force, making an arrest within 24 hours. And Guilford County School Board Vice Chair Amos Quick lived up to his name, blazing it over to the school within minutes after receiving a text message from his daughter, a student at Dudley. He paced the grounds and sniffed the air and made his presence known. I have to believe he is on the case – he’s a parent just like me.

And so, as the children dream their little dreams and chase their butterflies, a collective sigh of relief is loosed by the grown folks in the room who know how narrowly we escaped unspeakable tragedy. And we wonder whether there’s anything to be done, or if this, this business of guns being discharged in the midst of our children, is just the way things are. The new normal.

A group of kids. A tussle on the street. Bang bang bang. Blood in the playground and sirens tearing through the peaceful fabric of an otherwise beautiful afternoon. A terrible mistake. A father’s tears. A tragic end for a life too short and too sweet.

It happens every day.

For questions or comments, email Brian Clarey at