It was a beautiful day in Arkansas. Jonesboro woke up and began another day in the small town I call home. But that day changed the history and people of Jonesboro forever. It was March 24, 1998; third grade was not very exciting for me. I went to school everyday. After school my mom would pick me up take me home and then my brothers and I would play outside until my dad came home. Today was different, the teachers were sad, but no one really knew why. I just figured something had happened at my school, maybe one of the students had gotten in trouble or something. As a third grader I did not really give it any thought.
Finally the clock struck three, my teacher Mrs. Ryals let us out of class to wait in the “pick up” line. As usual I took my place with my little brother. It wasn’t long before I saw my mom pull up in our van. I rushed forward thrilled that today was my day to ride in the front. I yanked open the door jumped in and stopped. My mom didn’t greet us like she had over the years. Her face was filled with tears; we quietly got into the van and shut the doors. Not a word was said on the way home, if mom wanted to tell us what was going on then she would. Every tragedy I could think of ran through my head, but nothing prepared me for what she had to say.
We pulled into the driveway before my mom uttered her first words to us. She told us to put up our backpacks and sit down at the kitchen table. My two brothers and I did as she asked making as little noise as possible, we were terrified of what my mom was so upset about. As we sat down at the table, the phone rang, my mom answered and told someone we were fine. “No, the kids don’t go to Westside. We just got home from school. I promise the kids our fine. Thanks for calling.” Now we were really confused why wouldn’t we be ok. What’s going on my mind was screaming, where’s Dad. Then she began the story.
“Do ya’ll remember our friends the Cookers?” She asked with tears still in her eyes. It took us a few minutes before we remembered the Cookers from our church. They had two girls who went to Westside Public School. Then my mom took a deep breath and told us that at their school today some kids pulled the fire alarm. When the students ran out of the school two boys started shooting their classmates. Before we could ask anything else the phone rang again.
After my mom got off the phone, the questions spilled out of us. Who did it? Was anyone hurt? Why would someone do this? Did they catch them? As tears rolled down my mom’s face, she answered each question. Two boys dressed in camouflage were in the woods near one of the doors at Westside. As the students ran out of the school they shot fourteen students and two teachers, five of the sixteen were dead. One of the teachers died jumping in front of one of her sixth grade students taking two shots, one in the abdomen and one in the chest. I tried asking if our friends were ok, but the phone rang and my grandmother was on the line. After my mom assured my grandmother that we were fine, she sat back down to talk to us about it. Our friends the Cooker’s were fine. They weren’t sure why the boys did it. The police were able to catch them before they jumped into a white van filled with ammunition. We sat in silence as the news swept over us. Two boys had enough anger within them to kill their friends. I didn’t understand what came over them; all I knew was the fear inside of me was very real. What if that happened in my school? Who would protect me? Would a teacher jump in front of me? This is not the only incident to happen.
The other day my friend was telling me about his dad’s friend, who lives in Australia. In Australia they have gun control, meaning that it is illegal for any citizens to own a firearm. His friend said that now instead of robbing someone when they are away from home, they purposely wait until the owner gets home to rob them. Then they hold them at gun point and make them tell them where everything of value is, including any combinations to safes they have. After they rob them they either leave them or shoot them. Because of gun control, the robbers know no one has a gun and can not protect themselves.
Gun control is not only an issue for citizens, but some people believe policemen should not carry a firearm. Currently at UCA the University police carry firearms. Firearms may be prohibited on campus, but what is keeping a student from bringing one on campus. A college shooting can happen anywhere at anytime. What is the use of University police if they can do nothing, but ask the shooter to please put his gun down. If a shooter has enough hatred to shoot students what will stop him from shooting the police. However, if the police are armed they can protect us and stop the shooter before it is too late. University police can not only protect us in case there is a shooting but they can also keep the fear of being shot in a criminals mind; so maybe they will think twice before they do something harmful. If there had been armed police at Westside I doubt those boys would have done that. They would probably have feared being shot.
Three weeks after the Westside shootings I was at my piano recital. I was terribly nervous and I wasn’t really sure if I was ready to perform in front of a bunch of people. But whether I liked it or not I was going to perform. My teacher, Mrs. Sharon lined everyone up according to our level or ability, starting with beginner all the way up to really good. I wasn’t a beginner but I sure wasn’t a really good piano player. As I waited in line to play my piece I made a friend. I don’t remember her name, but I remember she was really nice but very quiet. She played before me and then sat down in one of the chairs reserved for us while I played my piece. After I made every mistake possible I sat down beside her. As a third grader I couldn’t sit still but it was ok because nether could she. We sat there whispering throughout the entire thing, until my teacher got up to speak. She started handing out awards to students who had participated in a piano recital competition. She handed out honorable mention, the award they always give you because you tried but they felt sorry for you because you didn’t win anything. Then she handed out third, and second. With tears in her eyes she asked us to listen to a recording of a girl playing piano. The girl was magnificent; she was one of the best piano players for our age group I had heard. The audience sat there listening as the recording finished up. My friend sitting beside me looked sad, a woman was weeping somewhere in the audience. My teacher stepped back up to the platform and said this piece was played by one of the victims of the Westside shooting, Paige Ann Herring. At this moment my friend leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Paige was my sister.” Her eyes filled with tears as she looked back up at our teacher. All I could do was stare at her. As I looked back at my teacher I could only wonder what her life has been like in the weeks following the shooting. Then it dawned on me the crying woman was her mother. Our teacher told us that Paige had been working for years to win first place in the recital. Mrs. Sharon paused she couldn’t go on. By now several people were crying. Then she told us that her only regret was that Paige didn’t know that she had won first place this year. If only Westside had armed policemen Paige might have received her award that day. If only someone had been there to stop those boys that teacher could have raised her two year old little boy. But we can’t change what has happened; we can only change the future. I believe citizens and police should have the right to own guns. I believe our police should carry armed weapons to protect us. I believe citizens should have the option to own a gun to protect there families from harm. We can’t change what happened to Paige, Natalie, Stephanie, Brittheny, or Mrs. Shannon Wright; but we can change what will happen tomorrow by being prepared for anything.
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