Honor the victims and heroes in Santa Fe high school shooting

There was a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School Friday morning. The community is just 30 miles south of my city, Houston, and local news coverage was focused on little else all day. Some local affiliates continued coverage into primetime evening programming as an evening vigil took place. I’m not writing about the teen shooter. I’m not using his name or any information about him that has been gleaned by reporters so far. I think that far too often potential future shooters have seen news coverage and used it as a normalization of their own deranged plans of violence, of cold-blooded murder. To me, it is much more important to focus on the victims and the heroes of the day.

The identities of some of those murdered are now known. Most are students aged 15 to 17 years of age. One was a retirement-aged teacher’s aide.

Several families spent hours waiting for word about their children — unsure if they had survived or were lying injured in a hospital. By late evening, the names of those killed had started to filter out, news spreading in pain-filled Facebook posts and texts:

Cynthia Tisdale, a teacher’s aide in an art class, remembered in a Facebook message by a niece, who wrote “I love you aunt Cynthia you’ll never be forgotten.”

Shana Fisher, a student whose stepmother’s Facebook post called her “an angel of God.”

Angelique Ramirez, a 15-year-old with “fire-red hair.”

Chris Stone, a 17-year-old, described by a friend on Twitter as “such a sweet and funny boy (who) always knew how to make anyone laugh.”

Jared Black, who was 17 and loved anime and art, video games and sci-fi, wrestling and wolves.

Tisdale, who was 67 and married, had three children and several grandchildren, is “now safe in the arms of Jesus,” a niece wrote. Another family friend said they were told she died while trying to safely get students out of the art room.

A hero’s name has emerged. No doubt other names will, too, in the days to come.

John Barnes, a 49-year-old Santa Fe ISD police officer who’d just joined the district in January after more than 20 years in the Houston Police Department, suffered a shotgun wound in both arms while confronting the shooter. After a Friday afternoon surgery, medical officials said he showed “good signs at this point.”

Others were wounded and hospitalized and some have been released. Politicians arrived to make the usual statements following these events. Governor Abbott pledged to begin a solutions-based effort beginning with bringing people together in a roundtable atmosphere. As it turns out, the governor had planned to present a new school safety plan next week.

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Abbott said in a press conference, adding that he will start looking for solutions beginning next week. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up, and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state of Texas.”

Abbott said he will hold roundtable meetings beginning next week with lawmakers and community members to work on “swift solutions.”

The governor had been scheduled next week to unveil a new school-safety plan next week, and aides said Friday that the plan was being reviewed in the wake of the shootings.

The plan reportedly included “hardening” schools to provide additional security measures at entrances and on school grounds, expediting background checks for gun purchases and additional mental health screening for gun purchasers. Those measures would likely need to be approved by lawmakers during the next legislative session, which begins in January 2019.

Time will tell. Senator Cornyn began a renewed passion for basic reform in data-collecting and reporting to the national data bank after the mass shooting in the Sutherland Springs church. To date, his legislation hasn’t made it to the Senate floor. The fact is, in this instance, new federal laws would not have helped. A sawed-off shotgun was used, which are already illegal and a pistol which he was too young to purchase. And, of course, the pipe bombs found were illegal. For this motivated killer, laws didn’t prevent him from taking his father’s firearms.

Though some of the usual voices came forward to politicize this tragedy, it should be noted that the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shooting unfolded differently than the one in Parkland, Florida. None of these students were coming forward to be used as the new spokespeople for the gun-grabbing left. The ones I saw interviewed were obviously traumatized yet spoke of their friends and teachers. The security officers did their job. No one is asking today about anyone who ran from the scene instead of trying to save lives and protect high school kids.

Hardening school entrances and exits is certainly a good start. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is getting some criticism for his wording of this thought. He mentioned that schools have too many entrances and exits to be properly covered by security officers. He’s right – two or three guards can’t be at all doors at all times – but that has to be weighed with safety protocol like fire safety consideration.

Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt has come forward and pledged to pay for the funerals of all the victims, to the surprise of no one. Watt is known for his commitment to the area and made headlines for the millions he raised after Hurricane Harvey last summer.