During a lockdown at a Delaware school in which she hid behind a bookshelf, a 7-year-old wrote a farewell message to her parents in purple marker on her arm in case she died – “Love mom and dad.”

The toll on America’s students from lockdowns and school shootings

What will be the effect of growing up afraid someone will kill you at school? 

In a guest column, DeKalb student Lila David recounts the scary experience of being in a lockdown at her high school.

While it turned out the lockdown was related to a drug search at the school, students were unaware for more than hour of why they were told to stay in their classrooms and seek cover.

Given what happened in Colorado this week, it seemed an appropriate moment to share the piece, which Lila wrote about her experience during a fall lockdown at Chamblee Charter High School.

Unfortunately, there will be other moments where this essay will be relevant, other school shootings. They seem a permanent fixture now. 

So far this year, the United States has had 15 school shootings in which someone was killed or injured. 

Parents now describe overhearing their young children pretending “lockdown,” hiding themselves and their teddy bears under chairs or behind doors.

In an analysis of news stories that likely undercounted the tally, the Washington Post found at least 4.1 million students experienced 6,200 lockdowns across America in the 2017-2018 school year. 

Experts predict our children will pay a steep psychological price for these frightening moments when many of them text their parents goodbye or tell their older sisters how much they loved them. 

Most lockdowns are the result of anonymous and false threats of school shootings or bombings. But the fear they engender in kids is all too real. 

A photo of a 7-year-old’s arm went viral earlier this year. During a lockdown at her Delaware school in which she hid behind a closet, the little girl wrote a farewell message to her parents in purple marker on her arm in case she died – “Love mom and dad.”  She told her mother, “In case the bad guy got to us and I got killed, you and Daddy would know that I love you.”

By Lila David

The intercom buzzed at 9:57 a.m. and a voice said, “We are now on a Level 3 Lockdown.”

The intercom clicked off and was followed by utter silence. Nobody knew what to do. Was this a drill? Was there an intruder inside the building? Should I text my mom? 

Suddenly, my chemistry teacher looks around the room and frantically says, “Everyone, hide under the desks!” There was panic in her voice. We rushed to the other side of the room and wedged ourselves between chairs and lab benches. I exchanged confused looks with my friends and we all stared at the door, not daring to make a sound. 

We sat, and we sat. All of the sudden, my teacher rushed to the door and, with all her might, dragged a lab table in front of the classroom entrance, attempting to make a barricade. Okay, there’s definitely someone here. It’s not a drill. Why else would my teacher be trying to block the door?

As time passed, people began to whisper. I checked my phone and saw dozens of messages from a school group chat flooding in. 

The texts read:

“Is this real?”

“Y’all, I don’t think this is a drill.”

“My teacher is freaking out.”

“The police are here.”

“I want to get up to look out the window, but I’m scared to stand up.”

“I think there was an armed robbery and now the robber is at school.”

I was reading the texts and trying to figure out the truth when I heard the school’s front doors opening and closing repeatedly. It suddenly came to my attention that our classroom was on the main floor, two classes away from the door. Easily accessible to anyone entering the building. 

However, my thoughts were interrupted by an abrupt dog bark. I then heard the creaking of the classroom doors on either side of us and a voice saying, “Single file line.” 

Are we evacuating the building? Why are students being herded outside of their classrooms?

The texts continued:

“There’s so many dogs barking in front of our door.”

“I don’t like this.”

“I saw students being taken out of class.”

“Is this just for drugs?”

“Apparently, there was something on the news about finding guns here.”

The intercom came on. “We are now on a Level 2 Lockdown. Teachers, please continue instruction.” I heard a sigh of relief across the classroom. Level 2 is good. Level 2 means we’re safe.

We sat back down at our desks and picked up our pencils. “So, the definition of quantum energy,” my teacher began, attempting to mask how shaken up she was.

About 20 minutes later, the intercom came on once again, and we were told to stay in our current class until the end of third period. It clicked off. At 10:52, the end of third period, we all collected our belongings and went to our next class.

So, it was a drill, right? Right?

“There’s a girl in the bathroom hysterically crying.”

“There’s so many cops outside.”

“Someone was caught with a gun.”

“Yeah, everyone is saying there are guns.”

“My friend just said the lockdown started because there was a QT robbery.”

“My teacher told us the robber got into the school with guns and was detained on the second floor.”

“Here’s what I know: Male 16, Student, Came to school with guns, Went to rob QT, Came back to school with his weapons.”

At this point, I texted my mom to let her know what was going on. She forwarded me an email from our principal stating that a random drug search was conducted by the county and nothing was found.

This email was sent to the parents. Only the parents.

I screenshot it and sent it to my school group chat, so that the students could know we were not in danger. I sent the text at 11:44 a.m. The lockdown started at 9:57 a.m.

The students of Chamblee Charter High School were oblivious to the condition of their safety for an hour and 47 minutes.

But, this is the last time something like this will happen, right?


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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.