The ‘concerning’ and ‘traumatic’ experiences of a school lockdown

No amount of lockdown drills could prepare a student for the feeling that violence may be around the corner in a space that is supposed to be safe. 

The Ellensburg School District (ESD) experienced a swatting incident on May 10. The difference between this event and others that have occurred in the past is the level of knowledge going into the threat, according to ESD Director of Safety and Security Neil Musser. 

“This one we had no prior knowledge [of] and based on what was said that was reported to us, we thought it was pretty imminent,” Musser said. “The impact was pretty substantial.” 

46 school shootings occurred in 2022, a record high number with a total of 43,450 children exposed to school violence at K-12 schools, according to Truthout

So far in 2023, 23 school shootings have occurred following 2022’s record high of 51 victims to death or injury according to EducationWeek.

“In talking with a number of our students that go to school here, what they shared is that for some of them, [it was] very concerning, very traumatic,” Musser said. “All they want to do is come to school and learn and they’re made to think about this stuff because of that potential.” 

The threat was placed near the end of the school day resulting in an immediate lockdown at a time where students were in transition, according to Musser. 

“We had students that were gone, students that were in the commons, in the lunchroom, students that were outside, parents that were showing up to pick up their kids,” Musser said. “So it was pretty hectic, pretty chaotic. It [had] a substantial impact on our campus.” 

According to Serena Scheffer-Arango, an EHS junior enrolled in the running start program who was present during the lockdown, an announcement rang out over the school intercom around 12:30 p.m. about the active lockdown, stating that this “wasn’t a drill” and instructing students to hide in classrooms.

“I heard screaming from the cafeteria … and a bunch of people came running past the hallway and into our room, and then one of our club directors held the door closed because our door didn’t have a lock on it,” Scheffer-Arango said.

While the threat was deemed a false report, students nonetheless felt the weight of the situation. 

“I texted my mom to let her know what was happening, and the parents didn’t get a message until after the lockdown was over that everything was fine, but I was with my friend under the desk, we were holding hands,” Scheffer-Arango said. “There were some people crying because none of us knew what was happening.”

Scheffer-Arango said they had never experienced an active lockdown before at EHS. She mentioned recent national news in terms of gun violence and its impact on students.

“I think running through everybody’s head, it was like, there’s probably a school shooter here because that’s just the current events happening right now,” Scheffer-Arango said. “It’s just kind of jarring that I actually got to experience it, but I also felt relief afterwards that no one was hurt.”

One Ellensburg High School (EHS) mother, who wishes to remain anonymous because she said she fears her claims could impact how school faculty treat her son, said her son was one of the students who had left when the lockdown began.

“[When I called my son he] said, ‘there was a lockdown. We were standing by the door and we figured that our chances if there was something going on in the building would have been better to just exit,’” the mother said. “Him and his friend left the building and ran up to Craig’s Hill.” 

The mother said she worries the students aren’t informed enough on what to do in the event of a shooter or lockdown. She said her son had left when he heard the lockdown announcement, but if the threat had been outside the school he may have been running into danger. The mother said she thinks there should be a way of letting students know where the danger is and to teach the students what to do in specific situations.

According to the mother, she was worried for her son when she got the news EHS was in lockdown, and she describes school shootings as acts of domestic terrorism. 

“Yes, I was worried,” the mother said. “I thought to myself, do I need to arm myself to go pick up my son right now? This is terrorism.”

Columbia High School (CHS) in White Salmon, Washington experienced a similar threat on May 10 regarding a phone call from a potential school shooter saying they’d be entering the school according to the Marion County Sheriff’s office

“Some students chose to stay home the next day, probably some of the more impacted students chose to stay home but when they came back in, we had counselors available to them, and same thing with staff,” CHS Principal Craig Mckee said. 

Most school shootings on the news appear to be done by students or former students, according to Mckee. The best way for educators to prevent this event from happening is to provide care and resources for all students. 

“I think the best thing we can do as a school district is to build relationships with our students,” Mckee said. “It’s really about taking care of the students that we have and helping them be successful and that is just treating them in a way that they know you care about them.”

The top four motivations of school shooters include past or current experiences of bullying, revenge, home abuse and a disregard for the value of life according to Alfred University.

Active violence training in schools have increased over time in correlation to the rising amounts of school shootings per year in the United States, according to Musser. 

“Run, hide, fight, is what we do now. There was a time period where you just sit under your desk, and they found that that wasn’t good,” Mckee said.

CWU Campus Safety provided a video on ‘Run. Hide. Fight.’ in the instance of a violent threat on campus. The video can be found on the CWU YouTube page.

For anyone that is a victim or has experienced trauma related to gun violence, the CWU Student Counseling Center and WildcatCARE365 can offer resources and support.