Nicki Salcedo: Decatur High lockdown reminds us to prepare different kinds of stormsNicki Salcedo. Photo by Fox Gradin.
There was a shooting just off campus near Decatur High School last week. It was the night of the varsity soccer games. I arrived well before kickoff. Down the street, I saw police activity. I thought it was a traffic accident, so I continued to the stadium without any worries. Soon I realized something was wrong because the gates were locked. The handful of early spectators were quickly ushered from the stands. It wasn’t an accident I witnessed. Someone had been shot. For the safety of the parents and students, we were brought into the school building. We were in lockdown.
I don’t know if they have tornado drills at school anymore, but I remember them well from my childhood. We would leave our windowed classrooms to line up in the hallway. My knees still hurt thinking about the cold, hard floor. We’d crouch against the walls with our heads tucked into our laps and our hands clasped over our heads, and stayed in that position for what seemed like an eternity. We had to be prepared.
Tornados are a real threat, and I’ve lived through big storms. Trees and power lines would crash into houses, cars, and block the street. Maybe your great-grandparents had bomb shelters. Air raid sirens sound the same as our weekly tornado warning system. I think about tsunamis, dust storms, and hurricanes. I wonder about pandemics and zombies. There are some disasters that you can prepare for and others that you can’t. Wind, rain, trees. Wildfires and earthquakes. As a child, I was prepared for acts of nature. Today, my children are prepared for acts of violence.
Inside the school, I saw athletes, actors, and students. Some of the students had heard gunfire. Others witnessed a person stumbling to the ground. There were whispers and unknowns and speculation. I felt different kinds of tension because some of the students saw nothing. They were inside for band or play practice. They moved about with adolescent joy. The danger was not clear or present.
There were staff and administrators from the middle and elementary schools on campus that night. Their days start at 7 o’clock in the morning. Twelve hours later, these teachers were still at work. Teaching was the least of their duties.
We ask teachers to inspire curiosity and hard work. Then the sirens sound, and we ask the teachers to protect and provide calm.
Please teach my child world history and calculus. Also support their emotional needs and act as protectors when trouble nears.
I felt calm, too. There was no panic in the air. The staff and students were prepared. Though it was my first lockdown on the inside, I was prepared in my own way. I thought of the training I’ve had over the years through the Decatur Police Department, including the Citizens Police Academy, R.A.D. (The Rape Aggression Defense System), and Active Shooter training. I highly recommend these classes if you get the chance.
The walls inside the high school are made of oversized blocks covered in a thick layer of paint. These are the same hallways of my childhood. I sat on the ground, waiting for a storm to pass. Instead of wind, it was gunfire. Instead of broken branches, it was a bloody body. I rubbed my knuckles against the walls and thought about tornados and bullet wounds. I used to resent the term lockdown. Instead, I am grateful for the teachers, brave students, bomb shelters, and tornado drills. The world is no more or less dangerous than before. We just have to prepare for different kinds of storms.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a writer, story consultant, and working mom.
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