I have lived in Highlands Ranch ever since I was four years old with immigrated parents from Vietnam. I learned how to work hard and play hard. Living to balance the two worlds of American culture and traditional Viet culture was and still is a task to handle. As I grow older, my parents allow new limits by letting me hang out with my friends late into the night and roaming the restaurants and shops. Until now, never once did I question my safety. Highlands Ranch neighbors and I call it “the bubble.” It is the stereotypical suburbia after all.
I hear the news about school shootings happening all over the United States, particularly in Colorado. Who would have thought that it would reach my community and become my reality.On May 7th at around 2pm, another tragic school shooting began to unfold at STEM in Highlands Ranch. The morning of the shooting, I was expected to be at a church ten minutes away from the school to take an International Baccalaureate (IB) exam. After arriving to the church, my friend and I sat in her car merely feeling the expected nervousness about the upcoming exam and whether we knew all the information. At that point it did not matter because we knew what we knew. It was time to take the exam. Two hours go by, relief for finishing during the time window. Time to go home! However, that afternoon took a turn. Before I had the chance to leave, the administration gathered us in a hallway that had no windows to ensure our safety. We had little information besides the usual lockout protocol that there is someone suspicious in the area. It felt more serious as time went by. Tick tock tick tock…we finally know what was going on: there was a shooting at STEM. Another one. How was another one humanly possible?! Friends around me were crying and panicking because they knew people who go to STEM. We are experiencing trauma. I sat there not knowing what to do and feeling useless. It was heart wrenching not to have my phone with me. I wanted to tell my parents what was happening and when or if they can pick me up.
Were my last words to them really going to be, “Bye I’m going to take my exam now!” I thought my priority was school, maybe not…The next day I had another exam at that very place again. (Lesson learned, all of us brought our phones into the church). As I was driving to the church, I felt nervous and had the chills. Especially hearing the repeated news on the radio about the shooting. Possible scenarios raced through my head. It is terrible to think, but my high school may be next. There were threats at another nearby high school last year, the threats from Sol Pais recently, and now the shooting at STEM. It is a vicious cycle. Every time I walk into a public building, my first thought is to figure out escape routes. When did fear of personal safety become normal.. The usual cycle: shootings happens, social media posts about how things need to change, nothing changes, event forgotten. When is this cycle going to end? Mental health and gun laws should not only be discussed after a shooting…after lives are impacted. How many lives does it take? I am glad if none of your kids, nieces, nephews or grandchildren were physically affected this time, but the future is unknown. However, if this cycle continues to be a reality, more families WILL lose more loved ones and you may be to blame for because you did not at least TRY helping. Why hasn’t anything changed? Why aren’t people voting to change gun laws? Do we not matter as much as the guns? How can mental health be integrated into school/work life? Should this be talked about starting in elementary school as a preventative rather than “fixing it” once the kids are in middle school/high school? We need to start being more proactive. There is some kind of divide between adults and kids that seems to be inhibiting change. Something needs to be integrated into our community, but I do not know what is the most effective without it becoming irrelevant too quickly. This is a call for help from adults to kids and everyone in between. As some say, actions are louder than words. Let’s do it. – Tracy Huynh, member of Project Helping’s Youth Advisory Council