“Today is Valentine’s Day. We had a code red at school. I was locked in a room. I thought I was going to die.”

Imagine your child writing those heartbreaking words in a new notebook—a Valentine’s Day gift—that was supposed to be a gratitude journal. Instead, it now serves as an outlet to express the soul crushing terror a child endured at the ripe old age of seven, as a student less than one mile from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Nikolas Cruz unleashed an unrelenting fury of bullets, courtesy of the military-style AR-15 rifle he purchased legally, at the high school nestled in Parkland, Florida, the state’s safest community. He did this after he was reported to the FBI for making an online comment that he wanted “to be a professional school shooter.” He did this after posting gruesome photos of dead animals and stockpiles of weapons on Instagram. He did this after being in and out of intense mental health treatment for years.

Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people. He wounded 14 others. And he stole the innocence of Harrison*, my friend Melissa’s precious son.

Harrison was locked in a cage in his elementary school classroom for three hours yesterday. He was shaking and crying uncontrollably, petrified that the deranged gunman on the loose was coming for him. It was 180 minutes of pure, unfiltered horror at a place he goes to learn.

Melissa and I were pregnant at the same time, and delivered our sons exactly one week apart. Through the years, we have both celebrated their milestones and agonized about the choices we have made about their childhoods, as all moms do. Their journeys were similar—until we both made the decision to send our kids to school on February 14, 2018.

Yesterday, my son returned home from school as usual, unscathed. Her son ran frantically into her arms after enduring a lockdown, grateful to be alive.

Yesterday, my son went to sleep in his bed, blissfully unaware that 17 people were brutally murdered in Florida. Her son slept in between his parents, peppering them with questions. “Mom, is there any way the man can escape from jail? They put extra powerful handcuffs on him, right?

Yesterday, my son wrote me a sugar-sweet valentine. Her son wrote, “I am never going to forget this Valentine’s Day. I thought I was going to die and I was scared.”

This is beyond gut-wrenching. This is beyond reprehensible. This is beyond any stretch of acceptability in a civilized society.

Make no mistake: This is our problem. Kids aren’t being shot in their classrooms by lunatics with military rifles in other countries on a regular basis. It’s happening here in the US. We own this.

Nikolas Cruz was a deeply troubled kid who was expelled from the school he massacred yesterday. As a student there, he was not allowed to carry a backpack to class because he brought bullets, guns, and knives. He wasn’t secretly stewing at home, putting up a good facade. He wasn’t hiding behind his sinister intentions. He was screaming to the world that he had weapons and wanted to kill people. And no one listened.

A sick sociopath took advantage of loose gun control laws to buy assault rifles and high-capacity magazines to commit premeditated murder. And the future continues to look bleak, with lots of bloodshed. President Donald Trump, in office for just one year, has already made it easier for people like Cruz by revoking an executive order mandating tighter background checks for the mentally ill before they can buy weapons.

Sadly, this is nothing new. We are only seven weeks into 2018, and there have been 18 school shootings in the US. Since Columbine, more than 150,000 students have experienced a school shooting. Have we become desensitized to these unspeakable statistics, to this despicable violence, to these senseless tragedies, to our children dying in our schools?

What the fuck is going on here?!

Thoughts and prayers are not going to help the dead or the wounded in Florida. They are not going to honor all of the lives we have lost from decades of school shootings. They are not going to restore the sense of safety Harrison lost yesterday.

Thoughts and prayers are no match for assault weapons in the wrong hands. People who are fed up are a match. Gutsy politicians who will stand up for our children—no matter what the polls say or how their pocketbooks are padded—are a match. Policy and change are a match.

Question is: Are you a match?

  • Harrison’s last name was omitted to protect his privacy during this extraordinarily difficult time.

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