Gun incidents, lockdowns stir anxiety among metro Atlanta students

Kids, teens weigh in on weapons, school safety measures

Black is the only color Gwinnett County student Taylor Jones wears to school.

After sitting in a closet inside her orchestra room in the pitch-black for hours during a lockdown, the senior worries that any bright colors will make her an easy target if an armed assailant were to ever get inside Brookwood High School.

Taylor, 17, doesn’t necessarily feel unsafe at school. But lingering in her mind is the fear that, one day, there could be a mass shooting by an intruder or another student.

The teenager was among eight students recently interviewed by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters to gauge feelings about school safety on metro Atlanta campuses. School shootings across the U.S. jumped to the highest number in 20 years in 2020-2021, according to a report released last summer by the National Center for Education Statistics. And each incident of violence brings with it a steady stream of horrific headlines.

There were at least 11 gunfire incidents at Georgia schools and colleges last year, resulting in nine injuries, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which compiles press reports. And there were 195 cases statewide in which a student was disciplined for bringing a handgun to school in the 2021-22 school year, nearly three times as many as in 2014-15, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education.

Schools say they are tightening security. Doors back into buildings remain locked at most schools other than when students change classrooms or at the start and end of the school day. All metro area public schools have cameras and resource officers. Some schools have clear backpack policies and metal detectors.

Nonetheless, the headlines and statistics have left many students feeling anxious. For Taylor, that means wearing colors that she thinks will help her blend in. For others, it’s devising escape plans in each classroom, just in case the worst happens.

Taylor Jones, 17

Taylor Jones, 17, a student at Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County, makes sure the clothing she wears to school every day would conceal her in case of an intruder alert. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

On Oct. 26, Taylor and her Brookwood classmates frantically dropped their orchestra instruments and ran into a storage room. They turned off all lights, locked all doors and hid in silence. According to an email sent to parents, the hard lockdown was prompted after a social media post claimed someone had a gun on campus. As they hid in the darkness, Taylor quietly panicked about the white jeans she wore that day, which made her stick out in the crowd.

“I was thinking through all the stories where it’s like, ‘I survived by hiding behind my friend who got shot by pretending to be dead.’ I was thinking through all these things that I may have to do, and it was awful,” she said.

That same day, 17-year-old DeAndre Henderson was fatally shot near Norcross High School around noon after leaving campus, police said.

A few weeks earlier at Taylor’s school, a photo had circulated of a bullet atop a urinal with the message, “Tomorrow during 3rd, I will show all my bullies who I am.” Taylor saw it. She spent the rest of her day planning where she would hide or what route she would take to get off campus. In the end, Taylor decided not to go to school the next day.

Teddy Johnson, 11

Teddy Johnson, 11, is a student at Sagamore Hills Elementary in DeKalb County. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

The intruder alarm went off at DeKalb County’s Sagamore Hills Elementary. It was a malfunction caused by a storm, but, at the time, the lockdown was thought to be real. Hiding in the dark, Teddy was the nearest student to the door. Several students cried.

The incident happened more than a year ago, but Teddy still thinks about it. Violence does not run rampant at Sagamore, Teddy said, but it’s common for students to flash the gun symbol with their index finger and thumb. “I try to tell them to stop, but that doesn’t really work,” he said.

Teddy said that, while he feels safe, he still fears the possibility of something happening.

“At any moment, some murderer could come and break the window of my room and kill me,” Teddy said.

Bianca Orfila-Molinet, 16

Bianca Orfila-Molinet is a junior at North Cobb High School. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

Bianca, a junior at North Cobb High School, said the anxiety of not knowing if threats are real makes lockdowns scary. During a lockdown triggered accidentally her freshman year, a teacher came into her classroom in tears, telling students to calm down and stay seated, Bianca remembered. At the start of this school year, there was another accidental alarm that put the school in code red.

Bianca thinks a lot about the victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20 first graders and six adults were shot and killed by a gunman in 2012.

“If the Sandy Hook kids had survived, they would be my age today,” Bianca said. “And I just think about, ‘What if that had been me? What if it will be me?’”

Dameon Cooper, 14

Though there are metal detectors and a clear backpack policy at Carver Early College in Atlanta, Dameon worries that it’s still too easy to get weapons inside the school. He said a gun went off on campus a few months back. The school went into a soft lockdown, during which classes continued but all doors were locked. Another time, a gun came flying out of a student’s backpack during a fight, Dameon said.

He wishes the school had more resource officers, that students would be checked every time they leave and return to a building and that the clear bag policy was more strongly enforced.

Dameon Cooper, 14, is a student at Carver Early College in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar /


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Dameon believes mental health challenges contribute toward violence in school, and that teachers need to always have a compassionate ear.

“We should have a meeting with all the kids,” he said, and “talk to them about gun issues.”

Juliana Wright, 10

As a fifth grader at Sugar Hill Elementary School in Gwinnett, Juliana does not have to worry about her safety often. But she questions whether lockdown measures will keep her safe if there’s an active shooter in the building. She thinks there should be better ways to barricade classroom doors.

“I don’t think we’d all have a good chance of surviving in a real serious situation,” Juliana said. “Sometimes, I get nervous, because I know there’s a possibility of someone to come in. And I just wouldn’t want that to happen to my school.”

Gwinnett County fifth-grader Juliana Wright, 10, thinks there should be better ways to barricade classroom doors to enhance school safety. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

In third grade, Juliana was surprised to see a classmate show off a pocket knife to his friends. Though the student did not threaten anyone, Juliana said she was taken out of class to talk to administrators about the incident.

Like several students interviewed, Juliana believes her teachers would protect her if there’s a threat.

“It makes me feel safe in the school building, because I know that anybody there and my teachers would sacrifice themselves to save us,” she said.

Lily Johnson, 12

At DeKalb County’s Henderson Middle School, educators are trying to curb fights and other violence by having teachers monitor hallways while students change classes, Lily said.

She said she, too, knows her teachers will stand in the way of any threats coming her way.

Henderson Middle School student Lily Johnson, 12, believes teachers will protect her if there's a threat, but there are days when she's nervous about going to school. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

Still, there are days when she’s nervous about going to school, like the day in 2021 when there were school shooting threats nationwide on TikTok.

“The only time I would say I’d get a little uncomfortable is when I hear a fight or when I hear the police officers with the drug dogs,” she said, adding she only heard the drug-sniffing dogs once.

She worries that it might be too easy for students to come on campus with weapons and other banned items, though she said she realizes some parents might not want staff or officers searching their kids.

Nia Batra, 14

Nia Batra is a freshman at Decatur High School. She sometimes looks for places to hide in case of an active shooter incident at school. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

The freshman at Decatur High School said she doesn’t feel safe in school. Her school has implemented a clear backpack policy, so faculty can see what students are bringing. But students are still allowed to bring in other bags, and she’s concerned that it might be too easy to sneak a weapon inside.

She said drills happen often for both soft and hard lockdowns. But, if there’s a threat, she’s not sure if she’d follow those plans.

“I don’t think that huddling together behind a bunch of desks is something I would cooperate with,” Nia said. “Sometimes I’ll be bored in class and I’ll look at places in the classroom where I could hide.”

Sophia Pietro, 16

Sophia Pietro, 16, a junior at Harrison High School in Cobb County, believes federal and state laws aimed at keeping violence away from school campuses need to be stricter. (Tyson A. Horne/

Credit: Tyson Horne

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Credit: Tyson Horne

In October 2021, Sophia heard about a threat she thought was directed at her school, Harrison High in Cobb. It turned out it was a Harrison High in another state.

“I do remember being like really nervous,” Sophia said, and thinking “this could happen at any point ... That was like my first real year of high school (after COVID) and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to experience a shooting.’”

That threat wasn’t real.

Still, Sophia said, she also doesn’t feel safe in school. But she doesn’t blame the district for that. She said federal and state laws aimed at keeping violence away from school campuses need to be stricter, to protect not just Harrison High, but all schools.


Here’s how many times school officials say a student was disciplined for bringing a handgun, rifle or other firearm to school in some of metro Atlanta’s largest school districts during the 2021-22 school year.

District Firearms Cases

Atlanta 34

Cherokee 1

Clayton 25

Cobb 14

DeKalb 55

Forsyth 0

Fulton 30

Gwinnett 8

Source: Georgia Department of Education