By Olivia Schrauwen (‘24)
“The chain reaction of evil— hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars— must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” These were the words of Martin Luther King Jr many years ago. Even though these words were spoken during very different times, his words can still be applied to the recent events of today’s world. Just two weeks ago, on November 30th, a student made a decision that changed the way Michigan schools will be viewed for many years to come. He showed up to Oxford High School with a gun in his backpack and a very clear idea of what he planned to do. According to The New York Times, at 12:51 pm, the student walked out of a bathroom and within 5 minutes, 11 people were shot. He was caught and sentenced to jail, charged as an adult, but not before he killed 4 people with his bullets. The subject is still very raw and many schools were closed the following Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday following the day of the shooting. Many people were affected greatly by this event in different ways, but all share the common fear of returning to school.
The International Academy (Okma campus) opened school the following Monday and so far has not received any “copycat” threats that other schools have been reporting. Nevertheless, a large number of students and staff at the IA still feel a little weary about being at school during these times. The following quotes all come from students and teachers at the IA and can give some insight into what the IA community really thinks about the current situation.
Trigger warning: The article below includes talk about guns and school shootings, as well as a few very emotional views from people that were personally affected by the shooting.
Facts and Feelings
No one can deny that the Oxford shooting could have been prevented. Detroit Free Press reported that the shooter’s parents had been called into the school, hours before the shooting. They met with school officials to discuss teacher concerns regarding their child’s disturbing behavior and what must be done to ensure that the student would get the help they needed. The shooting is thought to have been planned, since the juvenile reacted very calmly when approached by police on the scene. In a rather undisturbed manner, he asked for a lawyer and recited their right to not speak to investigators. There are many theories that if the school had pushed for the student to leave school and for his parents to seek his guidance in a more immediate manner, that the shooting might have not occurred. Whether or not this theory is true, one of the main lessons one can take from this traumatic event is that checking up on a peer that does not seem okay could prevent another event like this one from happening in the future.
Jacob Yonan (‘24) understands this lesson and explains how he has become more aware of what is going on around him, especially in regards to how his peers are feeling at all times.
“… it makes me feel…” starts Yonan, who is finding it hard to express in words exactly how he’s feeling.
“A little bit more concerned.” Jake Song (‘24) offers, listening attentively to what Yonan is saying.
“And cautious… [I want to know] where my friends are at [emotionally speaking]. Because sometimes people can just put a smile on, but they don’t know where their actual feelings are at. So I like to check on my friends a lot more now. And I also like to see where people are at, [both] physically and mentally, [including people] who aren’t even my friends now. So I really have to keep that in mind; that not everybody’s just a-okay, it’s not always like rainbows and sunshine,” Yonan rationalizes.
Because the consequences that the Oxford community and surrounding communities were facing were traumatic and horrible, many schools closed down in the days to follow the shooting, including (but not limited to) Lake Orion Community Schools, Rochester Community Schools, Troy School District, Bloomfield High School District, Clawson Public School, West Bloomfield School District, Waterford School District and 31 others (Metro Detroit News). Some of these schools received “copycat threats”, either because the Oxford shooting helped them gain the confidence to publicly announce their desire to do the same or because the students thought it was funny. A few cases were also reported to have been motivated by the idea that these threats would give the students a few days off from school. No matter the motive, these copycat threats are disrespectful and even if they are “jokes”, no one is finding them funny, and they are causing anxiety and fear for all students in Michigan.
“… what was scary was the fact that [the shooting] inspired so many other people. So it was kinda like a chain reaction, I think that’s what freaked me out the most…” Judy Alnajjar (‘23) explains how copycat threats are making her feel unsafe as well. She believes that certain laws should be made regarding guns to make schools a safer place in the future.
Melinda Cordero (‘25) and Izel Lopez (‘25) are stopped in the hallway after school, only a week after the shooting. “[What happened at Oxford,] it’s scary. It’s also new because I moved here from Ecuador… all this stuff is very new and it’s just scary to think about…” says Cordero. Lopez adds that she is also surprised by the event and admits that this topic is new to her as well, not because it has not happened before, but because she had not heard about anything like this happening so close to her community. “Yeah, especially in Oxford too. I mean out of all the cities… It’s really unexpected.” Lopez explains after being asked what she thought about the shooting having occurred.
Pateel Jamgotchian (‘24) agrees with Lopez. “Yeah… I just think about the whole thing that happened… it was…kinda like shaking a lot of us up. [Because] it’s so close… It’s weird, it’s like ‘Wow, okay that happened’”. She notes that the event was scarier than similar past events because it happened so close to her own school.
Jamgotcian and Lopez are not the only students at IA that feel this way about the event happening so close to their own school. An anonymous IA senior says something very similar while expressing her fear of the situation as well. She says, “[I]t’s still very nerve-wracking to think, ‘well if it’s that close, it could literally happen today, right now’…”.
Torrie Jacobs (‘23) also explains how the shooting has opened her eyes since it was so near; “It’s just so close and so personal and even just being near Oxford you feel this weight, especially since like a lot of people know how rampeted school shootings are… [and usually] you’re like ‘that sucks, that’s horrible,’ but you never really understand how the families are impacted, how the people near [the places these shootings take place] are impacted…”. Jacobs adds that in the weeks following the shooting at Oxford, she has (unfortunately) gotten to experience and see first hand the pain and fear projected from not only Oxford itself, but also neighboring communities as well.
Because the shooting happened in Oxford, it is a common misconception that the students at IA are not impacted by the event. IA is around 30 minutes away from Oxford High School, though many students live farther away. But just because the distance is far for some people does not mean that the students cannot still be affected by the event. There are also multiple students that actually live in and around Oxford as well.
An anonymous IA student tells their personal story, regarding their family, which was affected immensely by the event. “So I’m from Oxford and even though I wasn’t there [for it], the Oxford shooting kinda messed me up… my cousin who is like one of my best friends goes to Oxford [High School] and she was in the hallway one minute before the shooter was in the same hallway… she needed to jump out of a window and she busted her head open. So this caused like a big ripple in my family and caused all of us to like freak out and just realize that it could have been her that died…”
They explain how their community has done many things in an attempt to make people feel safer in and around Oxford. Even though these things are trying to promote comfort, the acts are making the IA student feel suffocated. “When I went home that day I passed by a bunch of swat cars and that was like mildly traumatizing cuz that’s like my hometown and my people… I live in like downtown Oxford, and I see in all of the stores that have like ‘Oxford strong’ signs and it like makes me feel sick to my stomach because […] I know that Oxford is like this really tight-knit community… everyone knows everybody, which is a blessing and a curse.”
Even going to school has made them feel uneasy. “And I mean it’s made going to school stressful. Like, obviously I’m panicked and like I know that IAs a safe community, but it’s still freaky” explains the anonymous IA student.
Torrie Jacobs (‘23) talks a little about how the shooting has affected not only her, but also people she knows. “… I know a lot of people who go to Oxford High School, I didn’t personally know the people who were killed but I do know people who were like right there when it happened who are still suffering from the after-effects like trauma and like knowing people who died.
“And I’ve noticed like at IA itself, it’s really not that prevalent like you don’t walk into school every day and you don’t feel this weight, but I do… I go to Oxford the city often ‘cus I live right here and I interact with people from Oxford and it’s like always with them all the time. And I know, like even if it isn’t obvious, that people are still being impacted by it at IA. I know people are, and I know like at the time my friend went home and her parents asked her how she was and she burst into tears… Just knowing people who went there, like you feel like this great weight on you…”
He starts to recall the day he found out about the shooting; “[I wasn’t expecting it to be] such an enormous event with such tragic ramifications for all of us. And I think it was because it was kind of a busy school day. The Principle, Ms. Gibson, sent out an email… like a heads up [saying] ‘this is happening’”. De Zwaan explains how he really didn’t think much of the email until he got home later that day. “I came home and then my wife… the first thing she said [was] ‘Hey, have you heard about Oxford today- what happened at the high school’. […]it turns out that her cousin Kelly has two teens at the high school” He recalls. De Zwaan explains how the two teens were affected by the shooting. “[They] were [so] shaken up to the point…[that] the sophomore… had locked himself up in his bedroom…”. De Zwaan says that the senior had told her parents that she will not be returning to the high school after what happened. He explains how this connection to his personal life made him realize how much this was really going to impact him and others he knows; “… the sad personal part… from my extended family… made it so much more real than something that typically comes and goes in the news”.
The following quotes were taken from a discussion among a few sophomores in the IA Library a week after the shooting. The students all feel scared, angry, nervous, and upset while they discuss their thoughts.
Mays leads the conversation, “… school should be a place for learning, it shouldn’t be a place where you have to fight to survive”.
“It’s frustration, mainly, I’m just frustrated about the whole thing,” Sangalang explains when he is asked how he feels currently. “But I know that other people are also frustrated and I can find community in that.”
When asked what frustrates each of the classmates the most, they all reply:
“[The school] knew-” Sangalang explains.
“They knew about it, but they still didn’t do anything about it” Arya joins in.
“Which is the frustrating part” Sangalang elaborates. Setera makes the point that the students have to be careful, “… a lot of the stuff you’ve seen isn’t fully true” and describes a piece of well-known information that he believes is not true.
“… obviously [Oxford High School] could have taken precautions, but every day there’s a chance that this is gonna happen, right? No matter the school…” Setera adds.
“Right, and going to school with the thought of that happening… it’s brought light because students have to do that.” Sangalang responds.
“It’s not something that you should have on your mind,” Arya says.
“Right, it’s something we shouldn’t have to have on our mind, but unfortunately it’s something that we do because of what’s been going on,” Setera explains.
The discussion continues…
“… I wanna go to school afraid because I didn’t study for my Spanish vocab quiz-” Says Sangalang.
“-not because I might accidentally end up not coming home.” Arya finishes Sangalangs sentence.
“… IA’s different, because like we all know each other so[…]you can’t imagine it [happening] because we all know each other…” Mays adds. “…not everyone knew each other [at Oxford], so you can sit in class with like at least 5 people you don’t know at all and […] they could do anything, they could be fearing anything.”
“I’m just glad that it wasn’t more people” Greenawalt solemnly adds as the discussion comes to a close.
Everyone in the group is obviously upset by what happened at Oxford, but they’ve all said everything that they’ve wanted to for now.
Students’ Opinions on How The Issue Has Been Addressed
The International Academy Okma campus had school the day after the shooting (December 1st, a Wednesday) and two days off from school (the following Thursday and Friday of that week). A new and improved lockdown occurred a week after the shooting, where new instructions were given to students. Instructions that heavily contrasted the ones taught a week before the shooting took place. In the “old” lockdowns, students were told to hide in the classroom, quietly, and out of sight of any windows or doors. In the new drill, the school introduced the tactics of (essentially) “Run, Hide, Attack”. Similar to the ALICE instructions, a student should make a decision. They can either run out of the building or somewhere other than the place they are; hide in a classroom, bathroom, closet or another place in the building; or -as a last resort- attack the threat, throwing books, desks, etc and trying to unarm the dangerous person.
Many people in the IA community are relieved that the school started teaching new tactics for lockdowns. However, some believe that the school should be doing more than giving a few days off and making a few very necessary changes to an outdated system.
Torrie Jacobs (‘23) shares her opinion on how the IA school system has reacted to the shooting.
“… I think the school itself did a good job in reaction to it, [but] I think going back to school Wednesday was not the best idea, especially since a lot of people and teachers even were just not up for working or being a student that day…
“… the days after that they took off to investigate were good and then the week after [we had] a drill, the lecture that we had beforehand was very good —at least the one that I received— where they talked about genuinely what you’re supposed to do and the different protocols for it. And I think that’s really important because like we’ve had lockdown drills and everything but we’ve never talked about specifics, and I think even the school board had realized […] like ‘we’re not the outlier’ because we didn’t learn all these specifics about the shooter protocol beforehand…” explains Jacobs.
“…at IA… I think now like, again it’s like opened our eyes to like the issue itself [and to] the mentality that we’re not the outlier.. It could happen to any of us…” she finishes.
One anonymous senior takes a mostly balanced approach to the school’s response. She is asked to talk about whether or not she feels safer (at school) now than when she first heard about the shooting.
“I don’t think necessarily that I feel safer. I don’t think the school has done a terrible job in the sense that I do think they’ve been very kind to students… [During the] four days where everything was kind of up in the air […] the teachers were like ‘Okay. Don’t do anything, relax, take some time for yourself, breathe’. So in that sense, I do think that they did support us mental-health-wise a little bit. But they can definitely do better…
“… they do a lot of training, obviously, which I don’t think was -I don’t want to say ‘cliche or cheesy’ as […] people say- ‘cringe worthy’ as a lot of people think it is. I mean, if you read up studies about it, like it genuinely […] helps when you’re panicked and you don’t know what to do… you [have] a rhythm that you can follow when your brain isn’t working and you’re in shock.” She explains.
“… I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but there isn’t like this security like ‘this will never happen to us’ nor [has the school] taken additional measures since then to assure us that we’re safe” concludes the anonymous IA student.
Marina Campoy LoVasco highlights the similarity between how she felt after the shooting and how the school reacted to it initially. “Well it’s happened before and I think that a lot of us— or at least for me— the day that it happened, people were [like] ‘oh a shooting happened’ and I was like ‘oh’ and it didn’t sink in because it’s happened before. It’s sad, but it’s happened before… I think the same thing happened with the school because like Wednesday nothing happened [there was still school], [and] Thursday, Friday is when the school shut down…”.
She then explains how she feels looking back on how sad it is that IA has needed to do so many drills in preparation for a potential shooting in the school itself, should one ever happen there. “So it’s terrible, it’s like a thing that you don’t expect to happen but you know it’s possible, and all the lockdowns that we’ve been having that practice has really made me ponder that like ‘isn’t it really sad that we have to do this?’. Like why has nothing been done? Like this has been going on for so long…
“I’m even drawing in my mind parallels like people that aren’t willing to wear masks. … [L]ike if people are gonna die from that, they don’t care, and the same applies to gun control, and gun violence, […] people aren’t willing to like not use guns or at least not buy guns that could kill so many people. And as a result, so many people are dying… I don’t understand why this has to happen and it’s affecting our generation, and they’re not listening. Like the people that are in power just don’t listen. And they need to listen.” Campoy-LoVasco explains her frustration.
Even though the Oxford shooting is a “thing of the past” to many people all over America, the IA community is still suffering from the aftermath of the shooting. As for the question of “what should be done from here?”, nobody really knows of a way to completely solve the problem and make everyone happy. But there are a few things that can be changed in order to prevent this event from happening again.
For one, harsher and stricter gun laws. The gun used by the juvenile was a gift from the culprit’s parents to him, bought from a black Friday deal online (The New York Times). If there had been stricter rules that prevented buying guns online or even a law preventing children from being given a gun as a Christmas present, there is a chance that school shootings would be less common. Of course, there are some people that would be upset with these “new or improved” laws, but in the eyes of those affected by the shooting, these laws could be the difference between life and death.
A second action that can be taken is the good work of people like Jacob Yonan (‘24) —quotes from him can be found above under Facts and Feelings. Arguably, one of the reasons this shooting happened in the first place was because the school and the classmates failed to get the shooter the help he needed before the shooting occurred. Although they did try, it unfortunately was not enough to completely prevent the shooting. In order to try and prevent future shootings, people like you and me need to make sure to check up on peers that seem like they are struggling. If you see someone acting in a way that makes you scared or uncomfortable, tell an adult, talk to them yourself, or —if you think that it is a very serious thing (for example, a threat you hear)—reach out to OK2SAY immediately. Reaching out to someone could save a life.
The Oxford shooting has hurt many people at IA, but it is important to keep in mind that the Oxford community is hurting much more. The trauma, pain, and fear that the community is feeling and has felt is unimaginable and they need our support more than ever. If you know someone in Oxford, make sure that you reach out to them, and try to get involved with helping the Oxford community. Below are a few links to petitions, events, and more to help support the Oxford community.