The Indy 500: “I always knew this would happen.”

HIGHLANDS RANCH, COLORADO - MAY 07: Parents speak with a police officer at the scene of a shooting in which at least seven students were injured at the STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7, 2019 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. (Photo by Tom Cooper/Getty Images)

The chatter from the stream of families leaving the Northridge Recreation Center — for today, a family reunification hub — was disturbing, and not just because we’ve heard nearly the same words so many times before.

“My whole focus was trying not to die.”

“I was in study hall and everyone started running.”

“Did you hear? They broke down the door and there was blood all over the place.”

Reporters are used to the stomach-turning feeling of rolling up to the scene of something horrific and approaching scared, grieving people during what might well be the worst moment of their year or even life, then politely bothering them to say, hi, I’m a reporter, and do you have a moment to talk about what just happened?

My natural discomfort with this ritual is trumped by my belief in the importance of reporters as community storytellers. Even — maybe especially — in communities’ darkest hours. And so I walked over to the rec center to do what I’d do on any scene: talk to people involved and try to come away with a story.

“Worst nightmare,” a mom said.

Her son, 8th-grader Gianni, chimed in. He talked about the gunshots he heard, about how everyone fell quiet, about how he “just sat there and prayed.”

Gianni said he wasn’t surprised by what happened. He was remarkably composed for a kid just hours removed from such a harrowing scene.

“I always knew. I live close to Columbine. I always knew this would happen,” he told me. “It’s bound to happen sooner or later.”

Through the basketball court at the rec center, past some cops and a pair of little girls handing out water bottles and snacks to the families spilling out, there were TV crews and their broadcast trucks and no fewer than 20 cop cars in sight. The parking lot was full and hundreds of people had abandoned their cars on the side of the road.

It was about 5:30 p.m. — 3.5 hours after the shooting. Some people were still visibly emotional. Many more faces were just blank.

Emily, an 8th grader at STEM, had been crying all afternoon and her face was swollen and red as a result. What a horrifying stream-of-consciousness account she gave:

“I heard gunshots, right where I was. There was screaming and then suddenly there wasn’t screaming. No screaming at all. There were sirens, police cars. There was glass breaking, I think. There was a lot of stuff happening. A lot of yelling. I don’t know who it was from. A lot of yelling outside. And a couple more gunshots. Then there was nothing. The police came in and let us outside.”

Tell the reporter what you saw, her mom encouraged her. This girl had clearly witnessed something especially awful during the shooting. She started to say more, then started crying again and never finished that thought.

After collecting herself, she added, “Part of you feels like it’s never going to happen to you. Part of you expects it to happen. I kind of expected it to happen eventually,” she said.

In several more interviews over the next 20 minutes, every kid and parent, to a person, talked about how shocking yet unsurprising it is that the latest chapter in America’s ongoing gun-violence horror show had unfolded at their school.

A dad and his three boys, all STEM students, were among the last families to leave the rec center. One of the boys, Connor, said he’s done active shooter drills at least every month since he was in kindergarten — some 40-plus times.

Connor’s dad, Shane Lussier, called Tuesday’s shooting “inevitable.”

“I’ve lived in Littleton since 1992,” he said. “I was here watching Columbine in 1999. I was here for (the 2013 shooting at) Arapahoe High School. We’ve had friends and family impacted by this for 20 years. It never stops.”

It was almost chilling how poised he was, given the terrible circumstances. As if he knew he’d have that conversation with a reporter one day. He probably did.

As Gianni told me, “That’s just the U.S. It’s sad, but it’s reality at this point.”

12 COMMENTS

  1. US needs to get a grip on gun violence. It is sick and sad to read kids and parents say “it is inevitable”. We have a very broken system in need of a strong overall.

  2. Best story I’ve read today about the shooting. I appreciate your approach, your acknowedgement that reporters are part of the story.

  3. It is not a story to report that various parents at this school were thinking things like “I kind of expected it to happen eventually”.

    Parents at every school, shooting or not, now think this. It’s sickening.

    We are raising a generation of war-ravaged children right here in the US.

    At least those that survive will one day get to vote on gun control.

  4. I.m waiting to hear solutions that don’t involve confiscation. I don’t think you will like the outcome when that is tried. Histrionics like “War ravaged children” do nothing except violate the truth. I’ve seen war.. Anyone..anyone..Bueller…?

    • Hey Buck, I would remind you that a lot of children in US schools that witnessed gun violence over the past two decades aren’t war ravaged. They’re dead.
      No problem to see here though; we all should just stop being so melodramatic.

    • I’ll be inquisitive, Buck …
      What is the horrible outcome from confiscation? We now have 20 years experience to witness in Australia — what evil has happened in that generation?
      As for solutions that do not involve confiscation — (and assuming you think red flag laws are “confiscation”), how about
      * licensing, Anyone wanting to operate a weapon needs to have a license. Licenses dependent on completion of a safety & operation course or by successful “testing out” process. Not a perfect solution, but we still use it for car operation, beauticians, and hunting.
      * insurance. Anyone wanting to operate a weapon needs to have hazard insurance. Heck, I’d even be willing to have competition between a public option and private insurance. Insurance cannot be denied, but would be priced to cover property damage, injury and death by firearms. A small amount would also be needed for “uninsured shooters.” It could even be made “invisible” by having the payment come in the form of taxes on ammunition and reloading supplies.

      • First this ain;t Australia. Second you are talking about stripping the constitutionally and god given right’s from some 100 150 million American’s. try taking away the EBT card’s from east Denver and see what happen’s.
        There are some 2-3 million central American’s entering the US in the next few years’ the competition for freebies is going to get interesting, when there ain’t no more free “Comida” and the east Colfax and Cap hill “native’s” get hungry too. Look out… I’ll ask you what I asked jay..you going to come and take mine? Licensing? You need a license to vote? Go to church? Insurance? You’re OK with illegal aliens driving without it..right? You as outraged about that? No..that;s PC.

        The minor shooter was a “tranny” more than likely an effed up home life.. Sick.. Don’t want a gun or “Hi cap ” mag? Don’t buy one.

    • I’ll take yours. I’d stand in line. To flush you out of your pathetic self-hatred, fantasy Jesus, anger soaked delusions would likely bring great relief to whomever has to put up with your drunken abuse including yourself.

  5. Ooh A snarky insult from jay middle school must have let out early. Who;s going to come a take my “Fetish”? You jay?
    I was trying to state that that the end goal is confiscation of all firearms.. To deny that is just dishonest. Eric Swallowell has stated “those that don’t comply ..ETC” Do you really think that will end well?

    • I think that I’m a good enough shot not to require high cap mags. I also think that needing an assault rifle to hunt deer sounds like someone compensating for a small gun.

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