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Challenge: Digging Deep

My 3 Kids Survived a School Shooting and I Survived the Horror

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When you’ve parented three kids for 24 years, you find out real fast that the matching sock of joy is suffering. I can’t count the number of tough motherhood moments I’ve waded through. Every crisis feels like the worst when immersed in the heartache. Then you find yourself on the other side and realize you’re stronger than you realized. Until the next trying season when life feels unbearable and overwhelming.

My early years included the following: a 5-day-old stopped breathing momentarily, followed by a terrifying ER experience, a 2-month-old tumbled down a flight of stairs (the same child careened down a staircase in a baby walker at 12 months), a 4-month-old fell out of a bouncy seat off a table, and a 5-year-old fell and broke his elbow after I gave him permission to use my bed as a trampoline. Although each child escaped unscathed, pushing past the fear and the mom guilt was grueling.

I had a son bullied through middle school to the point of such pain and heartache I could barely sleep at night, not to mention tame my raging mom heart towards the perpetrators. Overcoming the helplessness felt impossible.

At one point, I had an 8th grader so emotionally distraught that he dove into the darkness, dressed emo, and unleashed his pain on my husband and me. The weight of his well-being pressed down on my chest each day, matched by exasperation over his anger and disrespect. Trusting life would improve didn’t come easy.

Then all three of my kids were in high school when their building became the target of a merciless shooting. The feeling of powerlessness reached a new realm.

Up to this point, all of my mothering trials were in front of me. Meaning I could see them and had an opportunity to do something—or at least try. With the above scenarios, I was able to overcome my mom guilt by being more careful, start an anti-bullying program at my son’s school, and get our family into counseling for emotional healing. Because my kids were within reach, I had a fighting chance to try to make things right.

Any possibility of intervening evaporates during a school shooting. I didn’t know what real fear was until it snarled in my face that ominous day. The horror of not having any control or ability to protect your children suffocates. Especially when you wind up at an intersection catty-corner from the school by happenstance minutes after the first shots are fired. A harrowing vantage point for my husband and me, where we sat barricaded by a police car watching the unthinkable unfold before our eyes.

Knowing your two sons are in a building with an active shooter defies comprehension. The only balm to our raging panic was the fact that we allowed our daughter to skip school for a basketball celebration. Had we not agreed, she would have been five tables away from the deranged shooter. No words.

As God would have it, we were able to reach our boys by text and even managed one short phone conversation to each of them before the cell phone networks crashed. But, our correspondence was early on and the chaos surrounding us grew by the minute. I couldn’t even count the number of unmarked FBI cars, ambulances, fire trucks, SWAT vehicles screaming into the area. Even though our sons told us they were safe, the ensuing bedlam outside scared us into believing otherwise.

All we were left with was a hollow silence to scream into. How many shooters were there? Did the shooter find where my boys were hiding? Were my babies injured? Were they still alive? How were the hundreds of other children and staff in the building? When you see bodies coming out on stretchers, your worst fears bleed through your skin and you choke on what ifs.

My boys were alone and I had no way of comforting them as a mother. My boys were helpless and I had to sit and watch from a distance. If there’s such a thing as hell on earth, I was neck-deep in the flames.

What I did have going for me was a faith to lean into and a husband sitting next to me to absorb my tears. I begged, pleaded, prayed myself raw for almost two hours; willing myself to trust in a God who, up to this point, had carried my children and me through every storm. Recalling God’s countless acts of grace, mercy, deliverance, protection, guidance gave me the resolve to keep inhaling and exhaling.

Once again, God came through. My boys escaped with no physical harm. Emotionally all three of my kids have permanent scars. We all do. That kind of trauma doesn’t dissipate. The pain settles deep into the bones and you just learn to live with the haunting memories and feel grateful for the beauty that plumes from the ashes. I can still look in my kids eyes, feel their warm embraces, hear their voices, speak to them, observe them grow up, celebrate their joys, encourage them through their struggles.

Unfortunately, three sets of parents don’t have these opportunities anymore as evil stole their children way too young. I simply can’t fathom the pain. Another boy was permanently paralyzed. Each family endures a daily reminder of what went seriously wrong on February 27, 2012 in Chardon, Ohio.

Every time I hear about another school shooting, my insides turn and my heart collapses for all the people involved. More members added to a ‘me too’ club no one should ever be forced to belong to. My only coping mechanism is to search for displays of kindness and compassion all around me. Doing so fills me up, restores my faith in humanity, and inspires me to offer more of the same for others.

As much as we want to believe we are in control, we aren’t. Thank goodness God is bigger than any evil and always has our back even when life tells us otherwise. I’ve come to believe God’s love for us is our fighting chance to overcome any obstacle, seen or unseen. Despite a world brimming with hate, goodness exists everywhere. If we look around with open hearts, we’ll find the proof. It starts with choosing to be the love we long to see.

Shelby is a sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and pro-LOVE, Jesus adoring mom of 3 Millennials writing stuff & doing life with her hubby of 25 years. You can read her stories on her blog at, around the web at sites like Her View From Home, For Every Mom, Thrive Global, Motherly, Blunt Moms, and in print at Guideposts. Shelby is currently working on her first book.

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