By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D
On Monday, March 27, at approximately 9:40 a.m., the East Greenwich Police Department received a “swatting call” directed at East Greenwich High School. This false report alleged an individual with a weapon was inside the building. The false threat that our high school received that day was consistent with what several other Rhode Island communities experienced that morning.
As a result, EGHS was immediately placed in lockdown, consistent with our School Emergency Operations Plan. Meadowbrook Farms Elementary School was placed in a shelter-in-place out of an abundance of caution because of its proximity to the high school. The police arrived on the scene shortly after the call and conducted a thorough search of the building. They determined there was no threat to EGHS or any other facility in our District. The lockdown at EGHS and shelter-in-place at Meadowbrook were lifted shortly after that. Our day returned to “normal.”
More than 1,000 miles away, in a different time zone, on Monday, March 27, at approximately 10:13 a.m., the Nashville Police Department began receiving calls about a different kind of emergency. The calls were in hushed tones, with crying and the sounds of gunfire in the background. The first officers arrived on the scene by 10:21a.m. They “engaged” the suspect at 10:24 a.m., and within two minutes of their arrival, the suspect was dead. All according to the Associated Press. In those interim minutes, six individuals were killed.
Emily Dieckhaus (9), Mike Hill (61), William Kinney (9), Katherine Koonce (60), Cynthia Peak (61), and Hallie Scruggs (9) all went to The Covenant School that day expecting to come home when the day was over. Their families expected to see them again. Hug them again. Hold them again. See them again. They did not come home. They were killed by an assault-style weapon, the same weapon that allowed the suspect to enter the building.
According to the Washington Post, there have been 376 shootings since 1999, which means more than 348,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the incident at Columbine High School. I’ve been “feeling” these incidents differently since December 14, 2012. Not only was the devastation at Sandy Hook the first school shooting I experienced as a superintendent, but Patrick, our oldest son, was six that day. The same age as many of the victims. We were on vacation that day and were in the car together as a family when my cell phone buzzed with notifications. As I began to grasp the gravity of the situation, I was only comforted knowing that my two children were safely in the car with My Wife and me, securely in their five-point harnessed car seats, visible in my rear-view mirror.
The Monday following that awful incident, I walked them both into school, past a Williston, Vt., police officer. As we approached the entrance to the building, both boys let go of my hands, walked up to the police officer, and shook his hand. With tears in my eyes, I did as well.
We must do better by our children, by our own children, and by other people’s children. We do need more mental health services for children and adults. It’s not just about School Resource Officers (there were armed officers present in Uvalde). It’s absolutely not about arming teachers (Tennessee is one of 25 states that allows people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, and there are reports from 911 calls that there were armed staff members at The Covenant School, though not confirmed by the authorities).
It’s about the guns. Plain and simple.
I had the privilege to meet former Senator Patrick Leahy twice while I lived in Vermont. I once heard him speak once about the reality of gun violence. Senator Leahy is a hunter and a gun owner, which made me curious about his views. Suffice it to say I was moved by his remarks that day. While I did not take notes from that event, I was able to find a floor speech of his from June 2022:
We have a problem in the United States when the leading cause of childhood death in 2020 was firearms. We are the adults who must protect our children. We must protect our children. If we do nothing, we are not protecting them.
When will it be enough?
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.