This happened several years ago when I worked at a very small, glorified homeschool.
I was the designated Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 and 2, and Geometry tutor so I got to spend time with just about every single one of the high school aged kids that attended. I was younger than the other teachers and could relate to the students more, so I was naturally more popular and the kids would tell me things more easily.
One day at lunch, one of the girls came up to me and told me that one of the guys was trying to touch her and making inappropriate comments.
I told my superiors, hoping they’d handle it, but they all have me the “She’s encouraging it by the way she’s dressed” spill and did nothing. So I asked the other students, especially some of the girl’s guy friends to keep watch and let me know if crap started happening again.
I needed proof if I was going to talk with the principal because the older teachers were too self righteous to even try.
The same situation happened with one or two other girls, each saying that he either tried to touch them, said gross things to them about their bodies, etc. I tried again with my superiors but they did nothing.
Everyone started avoiding this one kid though, let’s call him Darren.
He was a little off beat, like he’d just say random things in the middle of a conversation in class or he’d just stare at the wall all day long without so much as touching a pencil. Days passed and I heard that he’d threatened a teacher one day but I had no proof until he threatened me. I’d been trying to get him to focus and he got angry.
“GOD,” Darren exclaimed angrily. “I could just cut you!” The comment sent a cold jolt into my gut but I tried to shrug it off, like everyone else had been doing but I just couldn’t. The Sandy Hook shooting had happened just recently and I’d been listening to news reports about the shooter, talking about his mental illness and so much of what they said made little danger alarms sound off in the back of my head because they made me think of Darren.
The guy even brought a screwdriver to school, kept in his pocket, and no one did anything. The principal saw it and said “I can’t do anything because of a tool.” Which I understood, but I was still alarmed at the lack of action from anyone.
I went home that night and spoke to my parents about it, who’s opinions I trust deeply. My dad gave me something to think about. “If you take al this before your boss, the least you can say to yourself is that you tried, because if this kid snaps and no one is prepared, you’re going to either die for your students or you’ll have to fight for your life. You shouldn’t be even having to consider this. That alone should tell you to listen to your instincts.”
So the next day, I went to my boss and I put my job on the line. I told him about the girls who’d complained, about the threatening of teachers and about my own personal experience. He was receptive but cautious and asked me if I could bring forward students to back up what I was saying; he needed proof.
And so I did. I got the girls to come in one by one and give their statements and then I was surprised when students began quietly volunteering to give their own, particularly the two guys who sat on either side of Darren. They knew something was happening and they were just as scared as I was, it turned out. Their statements chilled me to the bone. They both said that Darren muttered to himself all day long about knives, guns, and killing things.
Then he whispered to them about ripping out their guts for everyone to see.
They’d also seen knives in his backpack on multiple occasions and they expressed to the principal that they were frightened of Darren.
My boss was livid, particularly with the teachers I worked with for not being more observant and for not telling him about the girls having trouble with Darren. He called the school that Darren had attended before ours and found out that Darren had been expelled for threatening and then attacking a teacher. Needless to say, I was pretty furious myself that my school had accepted him without a background check, eager for the money his parents would pay and not even bothering to check as to why Darren never seemed to stay in one school for very long.
My boss called Darren’s mother and she wearily ensured him that she’d be pulling Darren out of attendance. I never saw him again after that. The school I worked at has since closed for multiple reasons, but I’m a little glad because it was so irresponsible run.
Last year, when the shooting happened in Florida, I felt nausea claw at my stomach when I saw the face of shooter. The expression, the odd way his eyes seemed to not look straight at anything, he looked just like Darren.
The more I heard about him, his obsession with weapons specifically, the worse I felt. I’m not saying I stopped a shooting, because things might have not gotten that bad.
I still wrestle with that, wondering if I did the right thing, if I was overreacting.
This is what my dad said to me when I talked with him about it. “The future is something we can never predict, but how could you explain to the parent of a dead child who’s life you could’ve saved that the reason you didn’t report the early warning signs was because you didn’t want to step out of line or make waves with the other teachers? You’d never be able to live with yourself.”