Maybe the security at your kid’s school is similar to what it’s like at my youngest child’s: I ring the doorbell and hold a photo ID to the security camera before I’m buzzed in, by an office staff who sit behind a second locked door. And if a fellow parent I recognize tries to slip in behind me, I’m of course not supposed to hold the door.
These measures are meant to keep kids safe, but also to help parents feel a little more secure in today’s world about leaving their children behind—and school officials should be commended for protecting their students and staff. However, no school can do that job alone, and one thing—one that’s almost too hard for parents to even think about—is that tight security is not a deterrent to the most determined of shooters: At Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the gunman shot his way through the school’s locked front door.
However, that’s exactly why we all need to do better to keep our families safe, at school, church, the movies, the office Christmas party, the hair salon, and the many other entirely ordinary places gunmen have opened fire in America. The family members behind Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to gun violence prevention, who will never forget the devastation of that December day nearly four years ago, have a new public service announcement to help us recognize some of the more insidious signs of potential violence, and remind us that none of us can afford not to be hyper-vigilant about speaking up. Here’s the PSA video, about a seemingly ordinary day at an American school—see if you can spot any troublesome signs. (I was surprised to note on a second viewing of the video what I had missed during my first.)
Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Nicole Hockley, mother to a joyful son named Dylan, 6, who had autism and was killed in the arms of his school aide Anne Marie Murphy, who also died while trying to protect him, told Parents: “We want parents to realize the signs of gun violence are right there in front of our eyes, and we’re not trained to look for them. We want people to be aware that this problem exists, and to be part of the solution.” Sandy Hook Promise offers free training programs on its site, including a downloadable PDF, “Know the Signs.” Hockley says the video is not intended to be a diagnostic tool for depression or other mental-health issues, but to help people learn to be on alert for some of the troublesome warning signs of gun violence.
I mention to Hockley that in some ways her video’s message reminds me of my conversation with Sue Klebold, who wrote the must-read memoir A Mother’s Reckoning about her son, who was one of the two Columbine shooters (Klebold wrote that she missed the symptoms of his depression, and donated all profits from the book to mental-health organizations). Hockley says she actually just talked to Klebold this past weekend. “There are mothers like Sue out there who in retrospect can see the signs in their own children,” Hockley says. “While Sue’s experience is not your everyday experience, she’s an important voice out there.”
Sandy Hook Promise’s video is another tool to help raise awareness. “We’re not teaching parents how to diagnose problems,” says Hockley. “We’re saying: Here’s how to understand what you’re observing.”
Learn more about what you can do to prevent gun violence at SandyHookPromise.org.
Gail O’Connor is a mom of three and a senior editor at Parents. Follow her on Twitter @GailWrites.