When Does The Violence End in Our Schools?

I am posting for a second time today, something I have never done. But I have to get it off my chest, and I have to do it now. Because my heart is breaking and I have to do something. If you are looking to laugh, please don’t read on, because I’m not laughing today. In fact, I’m crying.

Today, there was a mass school stabbing at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA, a town not that far from where I lived and raised my children for five years. A quiet town where things like this don’t normally happen. A town like Newtown, Columbine, or Aurora. Or the multitude of towns where these events have happened. A town like I live in right now, and I’m sure you do too.

A young male, a 16 year-old sophomore, was walking down the hall stabbing kids. STABBING KIDS. Nineteen of them in fact. While we don’t know all the details yet, early reports say that he was a target of bullying.  And even if he wasn’t, he clearly is mentally unstable.

I’m not writing this because I support gun control (although I do) or that I think principals should be carrying weapons (which I don’t). I’m writing this because I don’t know why we as parents are not screaming from the rafters that something needs to change. Common Core math doesn’t matter a lick if our kid is forever traumatized in an incident like this. Making the all-star travel soccer team doesn’t matter a bit if your kid knows their classmate got shot in their school. Whether or not your kid passed AP anything, well, what does it matter if your kid has post traumatic stress disorder from having to run out of the school doors for fear of her life.

Does this bother anyone else? What the hell is going on?

This is more than just making our schools physically safer. I think if we install metal detectors, incidents will start happening in school parking lots. I think we can put up bullet proof glass, and there will be more physical assaults. Put a safety officer in? Sure, as long as he is exactly where the incident is occurring before a kid hurts an entire classroom. In fact, there were two safety officers close by as this incident was unfolding. Did they help reduce the amount of victims, absolutely. But that is not what I want.

What do I want? I want to help kids. I want programs in place that help identify children who are at-risk for volatile behavior, starting early, like elementary school. I want school district task forces assigned to help bullying victims cope with what happened/is happening to them. I want mental health professionals to review files and incident reports. I want schools to stop worrying about their reputations and take ownership for what goes on inside their doors when bullying is concerned. No tolerance is a nice buzz word, but not when it isn’t universally applied.

And I want these things in every school. Now. I want them more than I want field trips or band or art, which are all extremely valuable things that I treasure and support. But nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important to me than my children’s safety. And if I can’t trust parents to either seek help or understand that their child has a problem, then I need someone else to do it. Because this can’t go on.

A beautiful friend of mine in Pittsburgh who knows people at this school said this: ” If only we could clearly see and know how to help those among us that are most damaged inside, before they unleash their pain on others.”

Yes. This is what we need to do. And we need to do it now.

We need our smartest leaders to help and our best teachers and administrators to come together. Because my kids go to school, and I don’t want to live in fear of what could happen to them. There is enough bad stuff in the world already. Going to school — what used to be the safest place for our children — should not be one of them.

Franklin Regional Senior High School has all my thoughts and prayers today. But I want to do more.

Who is with me? What can we do to make this stop?


  1. As a parent of a 3rd grader in the Pittsburgh area, this mass stabbing incident has hit home. I too feel that something has to be done. Just last night I attended a PA Gubanatorial Debate where only Education was discussed with all 4 candidates. School safety was touched upon but fell behind concerns of taxing fracking to pay for state wide improvements, standardized testing, and voucher and charter schools concerns.

    It is true, nothing else matters if our kids aren’t first and foremost safe. The matters of safety goes well beyond bullying and is found in the endemic health of the communities.

    With that in mind, it is easy to throw our hands up in the air and feel as if the problem is too big.

    For me, I started by immediately emailing our school counselor for a copy of our district’s Anti-Bullying policies. (Yes our district is lucky to still have one a counselor). How can our district be doing a good job of setting anti-bullying standards if after 3 yrs in the district, I don’t even know what the policies are? And don’t get me wrong, the students have in class presentations about bullying all the time. I even sponsored a school assembly by Josh and Gab to help get the message out.

    But there has to more. After I study our policies, I plan on meeting with our Superintendent at our next “Second Cup Of Coffee” , our monthly open agenda meetings to talk the plans strengths and weaknesses with him.

    I’m in!!

    • We need more of you. An army of Rhonda’s. Thank you and keep me posted.

  2. Oh, this just breaks my heart. Truly. I am the mama of five boys, and when I hear of violence like this, usually boys doing it, I immediately think of my sons. How do we ensure they never, ever, ever do something like this or that they are not, as you said, traumatized by having it done to them?

    I’ve studied emotional intelligence a WHOLE lot, and I believe it’s an answer to this question. Our boys, especially in today’s society, are not in touch with their emotions. They’re told to bottle them up, so when someone’s bullying them, they don’t have the freedom to share their sadness or anger. Or, on the other side, when someone’s being a bully, they haven’t felt the freedom to share what’s going on inside and they try to release it through fists or guns or knives.

    My boys are very young, and we have been intentional about using “feelings language” that they can understand…and that’s all well and good, but what about the boys who do not have parents versed in emotional intelligence? I think part of the solution is teaching this in schools. I think, instead of focusing so much on academic intelligence, we need to be focusing on emotional and social intelligence–because our kids will never benefit from academic intelligence if they cannot learn to maneuver their world of emotions and friendships.

    Those are just my thoughts. I’m very passionate about emotional intelligence, as you can see! :) (And if you want to know more about it, google Daniel Goleman. It’s really fascinating stuff.)

    • A million years ago I did some public relations works for a company that did EI tests. I find it fascinating, and what a great idea to focus on that (and we should be doing more of that in our schools. Thanks so much for sharing and good luck with those boys!

  3. Powerful and thought-provoking. I emphatically agree that priorities in our school systems need to be reevaluated and these senseless crimes must end. It pains me to fear for the future of our children.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by! It is very scary and touches my heart.

  4. My husband is from Murrysville and his family knows children at this school, none of which were harmed, thank God. Thank you for spreading awareness, Whitney. I couldn’t agree more that something has to change — at all ages. I also think that the school and the parents need to partner on this one. It won’t change otherwise. Also, there seems to be a stigma in our culture surrounding mental illness. Nobody talks about it. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, everyone rallies and brings casseroles. With mental illness, the sufferer is shunned. Creating awareness and getting smarter about how we respond to every child in need is a start. Great, great post.

    • Hugs to Murrysville! And I agree, mental illness has to be addressed. It does need to be treated like cancer, a disease that has to be aggressively treated.

  5. You are right on target that intervention needs to happen early, and at every level of schooling. What many people don’t realize is that developmental psychologists have known since the early 2000’s that there are a set of common risk factors these children who perpetrate school violence share. They are typically white, high-socioeconomic-status males who suffer from depression. They have felt bullied, harassed, or ignored by classmates. They lack strong social skills and coping skills, and often indulge in violent fantasies that they express online, in personal writing, or even in school projects. It is believed that anger at their own helplessness may change the initial impulse to commit suicide into an outwardly aggressive attack on others (which culminates in taking their own life, once maximum damage has been inflicted). Most parents probably know a child that looks like this in their community, but are at a loss as to what to do for them.

    Clearly, the research has been done. It is time for policies to be put into place to make early identification of at-risk youth a priority. If interventions have not been designed, they must be. As an educational psychologist, I believe putting this issue on the agenda will require grass-roots efforts on the part of parents in each individual community. Politicians cannot legislate effective programs from above, as demonstrated by their fumbling (though usually well-meaning) efforts to reform education in the US. Once again, it falls on parents to make their concerns clearly heard!

  6. I couldn’t agree more with this post. The school district my children attend borders Franklin Regional and our districts are very similar (predominantly white, upper/upper middle class, large in size, etc). Yesterday morning I heard lots if sirens and as it turns out, they called upon our ambulances to back up theirs because there were so many injured.

    Like every other parent across the United States, I began to question the policies and procedures of our own district, and Questioning just how safe my own kids are.

    To my knowledge, our district has implemented many precautions and procedures regarding at risk children that starts in elementary school. Unfortunately I still don’t think it’s enough.

    Kids are recommended to the counselor by their teachers where they are then divided into 6 different groups based upon their needs. They are identified by December but parent don’t receive letters until January and their group meeting don’t start until February, so they’re only getting 4 months of group counseling. The most frustrating aspect of this process is that parents can refuse to sign off on this process and not let their children attend.

    I commend our district for having (free) resources available at such a young age, but also frustrated that some stubborn (“not my child!”) parents can refuse treatment. What if their child is the next bully or victim?

    I don’t have all the answers, but I think collectively we can all find a way to help these kids.

    On a side note….All over the news, people are talking about how they feel for the victims of this tragedy (as do I), but I also want to say that I feel for the child that did the unthinkable. How lowly and helpless he must’ve felt to think that he had no other recourse….a circular tragedy with no beginning and no end.

  7. Have you ever tried to talk to a parent whose child is being a bully? They deny it. The school can’t control it. Our children see violence at a younger age through video games, computer content and television so it seems like it is normalcy. We need to stop the bullying to stop the tragic outcomes by the victims. How do we bring back a childhood environment in a world that no longer filters information for our youths?

  8. I can really identify with your statement, ” I want schools to stop worrying about their reputations and take ownership for what goes on inside their doors when bullying is concerned.” I know that schools hide much of what goes on and then something like this occurs and we’re shocked. Should we be shocked? What happened prior to this event that the lay public doesn’t know about? Things like this do not happen out of the blue…

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