Most of what I’m going to tell you here I heard rather than experienced. But I’ll share what I can. When Mr. Leeder got back to the office, he initiated the lockdown protocols. Beneath the sharp, pulsing cries of the alarm I could hear classroom doors closing, locks turning. In my own room, the kids moved quickly out of sight—we had practiced this many times. They—we—had no real way of knowing if this was just another drill. But my students reacted seriously. They had seen Mr. Leeder in our room, watched him hurry away with something he’d taken from the top of my cabinet. So they knew something wasn’t right. I looked around the room. They looked back at me, their eyes full of question and fear. I pretended to be calm, unworried. I was neither.
It wasn’t really very long—a half hour?—that the lockdown was lifted. But the school sent the kids home for the rest of the day. There was a long wait out in the cafeteria until the last bus arrived. Some of the final comments from the kids in this book are things I heard out there, walking among them. Can I describe for you the emotional scenes I saw outside? Worried mothers and fathers hugging their children? There’s something profoundly moving about parents and children running toward one another, arms open. It’s sad, really, that it sometimes takes a close look into the fierce face of mortality to make us realize how much we need—and love—one another.
The authorities found out very quickly that the 9mm handgun—fully loaded—that Michael Jumper had seen on the top of my cabinet was registered to Brian Novell’s foster father. Later, we learned how Brian had stolen it, carried it to school, hidden it. We’re not sure precisely why. Whom was he going to shoot? Specific people? Anyone? And why? As I write this, we have no answers to these questions. I’m not sure there are any.
Brian, I heard, was not easy to subdue. As soon as the lockdown warning came over the PA system, he sprinted out of class—presumably hoping to get out of the building. But it was too late. The police found him pretty easily—there aren’t a lot of good hiding places in a school. He was down in the boys’ locker room, just sitting on one of the benches. He looked calm. Resigned.
But as soon as they approached him, he exploded. It took several of the cops—big ones—to hold him down and cuff him. He fought desperately. The whole time he was screaming, but no one has been able to tell me what the words were—or if they even were words. But once he realized he was cuffed and held, he went all … slack. The emotion drained from him. And he just stared off into the distance toward a future that was surely very unlike the one he had imagined.
Before he stopped talking at school—and he didn’t say all that much before he declared he would say no more—he claimed he hadn’t planned to use the gun in school. But then added: “Not right away.”