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Recent shooting threats at Santa Fe High raise fears and spark action on campus

December 8, 2017 GMT

When Santa Fe High School senior Ashleigh Jaramillo first heard about the letter threatening a mass shooting at her school last month, her first reaction was, “Shock that this happens not only in Santa Fe, but [at] my school, shock that someone here hated people enough to try to do something like that,” she said.

Her school, she said, was “a place where I once felt safe.”

Jaramillo is not alone in her concerns, and this kind of incident is not isolated. A few weeks after the threatening letter, a student from Santa Fe High’s neighboring school, Early College Opportunities, threatened to shoot Santa Fe High’s principal, Carl Marano, after Marano told the student he was not allowed on campus.

This safety concern expands beyond the boundaries of our schools and our city. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, New Mexico is the 10th worst state in the country for gun-related deaths — with two deaths this year taking place in a Clovis public library in August, where a 16-year-old gunman opened fire, shooting six.

And this frightening issue expands beyond New Mexico as well. As Newsweek writer John Haltiwanger wrote Aug. 29, one day after the Clovis event, “This incident [in Clovis] marked the 244th mass shooting in 2017, according to Gun Violence Archive. To put this into perspective, we are 240 days into the year. In short, the U.S. has had more mass shootings than days in 2017.”

Children and teens are growing up in a world haunted by tragedies such as Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Columbine, and where, according to a report done by Everytown, 160 school shootings have occurred in this country over the course of three years (2013-15).

“Part of that problem is the proliferation of firearms in our communities. We have more guns than people in this country,” said Miranda Viscoli , co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce gun violence in the state. “Literally, we have more guns than we have people. I mean, what do we expect? Guns do kill people.”

What, if anything, can be done?

Viscoli says teens must step up and play a role. “We feel that our young people have the most important voice in this issue. The louder you guys are and the fact that it’s not safe for you to go to school, the more our elected officials will listen,” she said. “[It’s] an opportunity to give our young people a voice in an issue that concerns their safety and their well-being.”

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence works with schools in the area to increase public awareness about the issue — which can include anything from creating murals at Capital High School and Santa Fe High School to teaching classes on the subject at Santa Fe Prep. The organization also hosts a yearly Pledge Against Gun Violence with students throughout New Mexico. As a result, Viscoli said, the group has tracked a 54 percent reduction in the number of students bringing weapons to schools.

The murals, she said, serve as a reminder. “You’ll always have at your school a gun violence prevention mural that keeps our young people thinking about the issue.’”

Jaramillo, who is a member of Santa Fe High’s Student Wellness Action Team — a school-based community awareness organization that works with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence on the pledge — said, “I gain a sense of safety knowing how many students sign the pledge. It’s also grounding and makes me thankful for the life I have, because so many young people in New Mexico have lost their lives from gun violence, and it could happen to anyone and anywhere.”

The pledge was most recently signed at Santa Fe High School on Nov. 17. According to Viscoli, the organization was planning to come a few weeks later, but they decided to change the date because, “It seemed like the students needed to be heard on this issue.” The event not only let the students know that the adult community — including Mayor Javier Gonzales and law enforcement officials who came to the signing — cared about their safety but also that, “Their voice is the strongest tool in gun violence prevention.”

School shootings, she said, “are not a joking matter and they need to be taken very seriously. Nothing is too small. If your instincts tell you there’s something going on, have a teacher or a counselor or the principal check it out.”

District Superintendent Veronica García and Principal Marano agree. Both said students stepped up to the plate during the threats at Santa Fe High School.

“School is supposed to be a place where you are safe,” García said following her annual State of the Schools address Nov. 30 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. “Just recently, with that threat [at Santa Fe High School], it was again a student that helped report that perhaps there might have been a gun. … I’m proud of how our students at Santa Fe High, and the faculty and staff and district staff have responded [to these threats]. They have followed our protocols and done the right thing, and I think that we’ve averted danger in that manner.”

Marano echoed that thought, saying, “What’s important for [students] to know is that we were able as a school system to really deter some violence from happening. I can’t guarantee that something won’t happen today or tomorrow, but I can tell you that we have our protocols in place to keep our school safe, and that even though I was threatened, I felt safe coming to work today.

“I felt safe, and I think that’s important for students to know.”

Youth alone cannot turn the tide, though. Viscoli said the state’s political leaders have to play a role. “I would recommend our young people to tell our elected officials that [they] want them to make [their] school safe, and they can either bring TSA in and have metal detectors, which is going to cost a lot of time and take a lot of money and time away from the classroom, or start passing some gun violence prevention laws,” she said.

People, she said, should be enraged over the issue, particularly following the number of people killed and wounded in the recent shootings in Las Vegas, Nev., (58 dead, 498 injured) and at the Sutherland Springs church in Texas (26 killed).

Viscoli also stresses the importance of locking up firearms.

“It’s very important that we start educating our parents about locking up their guns. That is probably one of the safest ways we can assure there won’t be a school shooting,” she said. “Guess where [students who are committing school shootings] 90 percent of the time get their gun from? Their parents.”

García has similar hopes, and also stated the importance of increased “awareness for mental health and behavioral health issues, drug and alcohol abuse issues, because it seems that a lot of this is often tied to behavioral health issues or drug issues.

“The other thing is anti-bullying [efforts]. … We have to pay attention to that at a very early age, because I think you often see where kids maybe experience these things at very young age; by the time they get to high school, it has built up to a place that is uncontainable.”

Marano’s advice is to focus on and bring more attention to the positive energy and activities happening in the world — while also acknowledging the reality and seriousness of the situation.

“It can happen at church, it can happen at the mall, it can happen at a concert, it can happen at a game,” Marano said of gun violence. “I’m not going to stop living my life because of that. You just have to have an awareness, and you just have to be alert.

“I think as a community we just got to keep a positive mindset, and keep doing good for each other and believing there’s so much good, and I see it every day.”

He said media coverage of shootings does not always help and can even influence people to consider committing similar acts: “If I’m a 15-year-old that’s lacking attention, and I see that this was able to get me some attention, that gives other people ideas, and I think that’s what you’re seeing in the world. It’s like, ‘I see it on TV, I see it in the newspaper, I see it all over. Well, why not do that so I can get attention?’ ”

García also believes that the way such events are covered impact people’s mindsets.

“I do believe that we’re getting desensitized in there’s so much information that is instantly available,” she said. “ ‘There’s a mass shooting here, there’s a mass shooting there, there’s this terrorist attack there,’ and so when you start hearing it so frequently, I think that you can become desensitized.

“I hope that we are alarmed and that we are conscious of it and that we do try to … be our brother’s keeper, that we do look out for each other, because that’s the only way I believe that we can protect each other.”

Wyatte Grantham-Phillips is a senior at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at wyatte.granthamphilips@gmail.com.