We all feared the worst the morning of Sept. 29 when the initial reports started streaming onto our phone and through our social media outlets.
The nightmares of any parent, teacher, classmate, all realized, if not completely comprehended, at that moment — a gun is in our schools and a child is injured.
Of course, the experiences of those three units — student, staff, and parents — were all exponentially different that morning.
Being inside that building brought with it a much different level of fear, of misunderstanding, of dread, even, than being outside of it.
Collectively, though, the minutes and hours of anxiety had to feel like an eternity, whether you were sitting in a locked classroom or watching a live television report that only showed the outside of a building, a seemingly normal façade that hid the chaos and anguish unfolding inside.
The why will haunt the minds of those students and teachers for some time. Suicide is so confusing, the topic so taboo, that even as details are sorted out inside and disseminated through the media to the outside, it is nearly impossible in that moment for us to wrap our brains around what we are hearing.
Then, when you couple in reports on social media that very well could be coming from inside the school with the instant judgments of the uninformed and the dime-store psychology of those looking to make this incident about something else, it almost becomes too much for a community to take.
There is no playbook, no standard operating procedure, no section of the manual that tells us how to handle a situation that we cannot and never will be able to fully plan for —a young woman, with a gun, taking her own life in a very public way at a high school.
Even typing it out is painful in the most confusing and tragic way.
The sheer heartbreaking nature in which this played out shocks our system. And it should.
When situations like this occur in Lee’s Summit — an affluent community not at all immune to stories so distressing that it nearly forces a difficult conversation among us — we rightfully look to professionals to help us make some sense, any, of it all.
Time and again, those professionals — police, fire, clergy, and educators among them — seem to pull us through.
When we are enraged about a rare murder in town, those entities help us make some peace and bring clarity to the topic of crime. When a child passes away, we look to faith and to our neighbors for solace and shoulders. And when the topic suicide is rather forcefully thrust upon us, we must continue, as a community, to seek those out that can answer questions and bring some clarity to the discussion, especially where it relates to our youth.
This certainly isn’t the first time in recent memory some of our students have had to come to grips with a classmate taking their own life. Many of us, in fact, have had to, often painfully, come to terms with a close friend or loved one taking such an extreme measure as suicide that many of us cannot comprehend why they did, how they could or what put them in such a dark place.
It is the first time, though, in my memory the suicide has hit so close to our students. That fact alone makes this circumstance unlike something our counselors and mental health professionals likely have ever had to deal with.
But, like other tragedies that have rocked our otherwise quiet community, this will drive a conversation. It simply must. We are compelled to talk about suicide openly. Publicly. Honestly.
Let the teenagers talk about it. Make a point to have open discussions. Let professionals guide us on how early and to what degree and depth we discuss depression, anger, violence, and suicide.
We have the resources, the talents, and the temperament in Lee’s Summit to have this conversation and, while we certainly haven’t dodged it in the past, we can no longer avoid broadening this vital dialogue.
What happened last week simply compels us to do that.
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.