Four millimeters saved a girl’s life this week. That and clear-headed thinking and courageous actions by friends and trained professionals responding to her needs. The knife pierced her neck and torso, reaching her heart just shy of certain death.
How this kind of thing could happen to a 14-year-old at a nearby high school was bound to be a discussion between parents and children later that day. And as I watched my oldest three daughters surround our family computer reading the story, I thought, “It could have been Hannah; she’s in high school. It could’ve been Bailey or Kyra in middle school.”
How do families deal with these troubling thoughts? What of the students that experienced it firsthand? Are they angry? Are they forgiving? What of the hundreds of other students? How do they reason out why they could escape the close call, the graphic scene, and the troubling aftermath, simply by not being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Do the students that came to aid the victims relive the experience? And how are parents (of the victims, the rescuers, and the alleged attacker) coping with their thoughts?
Every day this week I’ve learned a little more of the story about the girls that were assaulted in their high school bathroom and narrowly escaped death. I can’t help but replay the events in my head wondering what families do to regroup, pray, comfort, and just be there for each other. How troubling it is to stop and see that tragedy could happen anywhere – inner cities and rural towns alike. Small scale or large.
Yet I know that miraculous recoveries also take place.
I’m blessed to be married to a survivor of Cokeville, Wyoming – May 16, 1986. My wife, Allyson, along with two of her siblings and the rest of the elementary school were taken hostage by a crazed man and his wife. With assault rifles and a shopping cart full of explosives and gasoline, their plan was either to make millions of dollars ransoming the entire school of children and administrators in the small town or to “save” them all from an evil world by blowing them to heaven (ironic). In the end, he and his wife were the only two to die after the explosives were accidentally triggered. The room full of people was set afire, but the hostages were all able to escape, protected somehow from a blast that ascended straight up into the ceiling rather than directly out into the crowd. My wife has told me of her feelings being dropped by a teacher from a classroom window as smoke billowed out, ducking and running for safety towards police cars and panic-stricken parents waiting across the lawn. Bullets exploded repeatedly from the fire, so, to her, that meant the crazy man was shooting to pick them off as they ran away. She zig-zagged as she ran for cover, stopping to rest down the street, then taking her brother and sister to a neighbor’s garden faucet to hose off her sister’s burned arm. Her mother, like all other parents, searched desperately to find them for some time in the melee.
In my mind I’ve replayed my wife’s experience and that of the helpless parents during and after the event. What did her dad think far off on the dairy farm when he heard what had happened? What extreme fear and then flood of relief did my mother-in-law go through? How did children recover as the apparent danger was extinguished and shock subsided? I can’t help but wonder and thank God they were protected. Otherwise, my family wouldn’t be the same.
When traumatic events occur without cause and reason, so many can be affected and in countless ways. Especially when great loss is the outcome. Yet loving parents, children, and townspeople can come through closer than they were before.
Which is what I hope is happening to Snohomish.