Content warning: Mentions of gun violence, school shooting.
How could this happen here? Why is my high school, my hometown, in headlines? I felt utter shock and horror seeing my home, which holds the people I love and the places I grew up, plastered across the media on November 30, 2021.
I felt a sort of willful ignorance as I anxiously waited to hear from my loved ones at Oxford High School, terrified to learn of the events that unfolded in those halls. But, nevertheless, I was desperate to know if everyone was safe.
Within minutes, the headlines changed: “Active Shooter at Oxford High School” became “3 killed, 8 injured in shooting at Oxford High School.” The moment that disgusting, heinous individual opened fire, my town was forever changed. Within minutes, three lives were lost, several people were injured and a school of students, teachers, staff and administrators were traumatized.
The next day, one of the injured victims passed away. Once again, the headlines changed to reflect the new death toll. I could not fathom that this was real — every text from my loved ones, every story from that day, every headline in the news, served as a sobering reminder that this was all real.
As soon as resources appeared to help aid the families of the victims and survivors, I knew I wanted to find a way to help from Ann Arbor. I made an online tool called a ‘linktree’ to consolidate ways to help. And yet, instead of jumping to contribute and spread information, people from outside of Oxford (or those who were not connected to the event) took to social media, flooding it with some of the most awful words I have ever read.
Oxford was in mourning. But, rather than recognizing the agonizing losses we had just experienced, strangers on social media were slandering the names of school officials or teachers they did not even know, claiming what they “should” have done or how they failed, as if everyone in that building are not also survivors of this traumatic event. And further, they were posting the face of the murderer on their timeline — an incredibly triggering act for survivors that has the potential to encourage copycat threats.
While of course, the internet isn’t real life and staying off social media is often one of the first recommendations after a school shooting occurs, I learned how quickly a town can be tainted by tragedies.
My town held a vigil that week for those lost, and there was a panic caused by an attendee fainting. Someone yelled for help, and out of fear, everyone scrambled. My step-father scooped up my little brother and just started running. Survivors of the shooting reliving trauma, people in my town running for their lives, all due to the aftershocks of the shooting at Oxford. Media outlets present at the vigil were shoving cameras in the faces of mourning people, sobbing people — the vigil was only one of the many places that media outlets asserted their invasive presence.
Once the initial shock wore off and I had taken the time to begin coping with the events of November 30, I realized that this tragedy took place after a devastating number of precedents.
In March 2018, a group of Oxford High School students held a walkout in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students. After we walked out, we held a vigil with 17 minutes of silence: one minute to acknowledge each victim of the Parkland school shooting. I remember helping to hold the pictures of some of the victims, looking at their innocent faces and then lifting them up for the crowd to acknowledge each life that was taken by the senseless act of violence on February 14, 2018.
I silently reflected on this day this past December, as I drove home to Oxford from Ann Arbor to attend a memorial service for one of the Oxford victims. The silence was eerie as I drove past “Pray for Oxford” billboards and posters, the air growing denser as I reached closer to my home. I live on a backroad behind the high school. I drove by the empty parking lot, the empty school. I felt a rush of emotions as I glanced at the Oxford High School sign surrounded by a mound of flowers, stuffed animals and offerings for the victims. I don’t think my mom has ever hugged me so tight as when I walked in the door of our home that day.
On my way to the memorial service, I experienced yet another aftershock of gun violence. There was a shooting in the parking lot of the Lake Orion Beaumont facility as I was driving past it. My experience was nowhere near comparable to those of the students and staff in Oxford High School, and yet I burst into tears, immediately speeding down M-24 to get away from that place as soon as I could. My mom called me frantically, aware I was headed that way, and I was able to tell her I was just fine. I was able to tell her that I love her.
Driving by the shooting at Beaumont on my way to a memorial service for a victim of gun violence. It felt so surreal in my heart, but so obvious in my head: Nothing has changed. After Columbine? Thoughts and prayers for those in mourning turned into just a blip in the news cycle with no tangible action. After Sandy Hook? After Parkland? Thoughts and prayers for those in mourning turned into just a blip in the news cycle with no tangible action. Now, after Oxford? Thoughts and prayers for those in mourning, again, turned into just a blip in the news cycle with no tangible action.
To me, thoughts and prayers are an important aspect of community healing and an integral part of the grieving process. But it cannot continue to be all that happens after instances of gun violence.
So, where do we go from here? How we do continue to help Oxford, and how do we prevent another community from experiencing the pain and terror that shattered my community on November 30? When will we collectively recognize the devastating impact that gun violence has on students, teachers, parents, siblings, families, friends, and strangers?
Personally, I feel there are two main parts to moving forward: proactive healing and personal healing.
‘Proactive healing’ involves prevention measures to reduce the amount of gun violence in our communities, our state and the country as a whole. Although it is important for the gun violence epidemic to be confronted at each level of government, we must focus efforts on impacting legislation on the state level if we truly want to ensure that a tragedy akin to the one Oxford experienced never happens in Michigan again.
While gun laws have become a highly polarized issue in politics today, this is not a partisan issue. Engaging in proactive healing means recognizing that gun violence is not one perspective or party versus another, not me vs. you or them — it is all of us against the problem. We need to put pressure on our state legislatures to work across their differences and represent the people they were elected to serve. Michigan citizens deserve sensible gun legislation and increased mental health funding for our schools. Currently, these types of legislation are being discussed at the state level.
In Michigan, the proposed House Bills 5066 and 5069 and Senate Bills 550 and 553 create safe storage requirements for firearms, and House Bills 5067 and 5068 and Senate Bills 551 and 552 exempt gun safety devices from sales and use tax (for a period of time). ‘Sensible’ gun legislation such as safe storage benefits everyone; the requirements included in this bill are proven to save lives, especially those of children, motivating reduced rates of firearm fatalities, firearm homicides and firearm suicides.
Moreover, the current lack of legislation surrounding safe storage poses a devastating impact in schools: easy access to unlocked firearms is correlated with a growing number of students experiencing the mental stresses of gun violence in schools. Active shooter drills in schools are associated with a 42% increase in anxiety, a 39% increase in depression and a 22% increase in psychological health problems for students.
As a prospective solution to these issues, Governor Whitmer’s FY23 Executive Budget, specifically the Supporting Student Mental Health budget proposal, would help fund mental health professionals in our schools and provide greater mental health screening resources for all districts. Michigan is second to Arizona for having a shortage of counselors, giving Michigan one of the highest counselor caseloads in the nation. Having more mental health professionals in schools would help close equity gaps that currently restrict access for adolescents of color, help enhance students emotional well-being as well astheir academic performance and aid students in receiving early intervention for mental illness which would help save lives.
There are several ways you can take action and mobilize legislators to support these bills. Here are some ways to get started:
Join or support groups that are already focusing efforts on these bills.
There are several groups in the state of Michigan that are organizing to pressure legislators to work on passing the bills discussed. A few organizations to start with are March for our Lives Michigan, End Gun Violence Michigan and Everytown for Gun Safety (which includes Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action, both grassroots branches of Everytown). Visiting their websites to learn more about their efforts or ways to take action with these groups is a great way to help grow the grassroots movements, and show legislators that the Michiganders they serve care about these issues.
Register to vote and research the appropriate candidates.
Regardless of where you vote, researching your legislators on the ballot at the local, state and federal levels to see whether they support safe storage laws and mental health funding is a way you can use your vote, and your voice, to show your desire for change on these issues. Specifically for folks in Michigan, this is an integral election year. If these bills are not passed under this legislature, redistricting in Michigan could change the course of politics in our state— it is incredibly important, now more than ever, to ensure you are registered to vote and that you vote in the primaries and general elections if possible. If you are not registered, you can register here to vote in Michigan.
Find and connect with your state representatives and senators.
You can click here to find the name and contact information of your state representatives and senators. Directly telling your legislators that these bills are important to you is one of the best ways to influence them. Even going as far to say ‘I will not vote for you if you do not support safe storage legislation or student mental health funding’ could be the difference between a legislator voting for or against a bill. Sometimes all it takes is one conversation about the personal impact these laws would have to change someone’s mind.
Now, imagine if everyone reading this joined the End Gun Violence Michigan movement. If everyone reading this registered to vote and reached out to their current representatives or senators. Imagine if 10 phone calls from these legislators’ target communities came in, urging them to support this legislation. Engaging in our democracy is not everyone’s favorite hobby, but this work is important and necessary to build a better future than the present we currently have. Furthermore, it is far too often the people that are most vulnerable and personally impacted that are fighting for change.
I am not exempt from this, and I admit that I was ignorant in thinking that simply attending a protest, donating from time to time and voting was enough to do my part to confront this issue. I learned on November 30, 2021, that it was and never will be enough.
We all need to be doing more to prevent these tragedies, not just react to them. I understand that it may be hard, as an outsider, to put yourself in Oxford student’s shoes or acknowledge the likelihood that this sort of violence could occur in your life or the life of someone you love. But as we saw, each act of gun violence creates a domino effect of more violence and fear. From the mental impacts of other shootings like the one I drove past, to copycat threats across the state of Michigan, to children fearfully asking their parents if going to school is safe, no one is protected from the threat of gun violence as long as the laws of our state remain unchanged.
Thus, I urge everyone reading this to unite together to advocate for this legislation, to ensure that children have the mental health resources in their schools that I know from experience they so desperately need. And further, to ensure that our state sets a precedent for ensuring responsible gun ownership through safe storage laws. We have the potential in Michigan to create lasting change that could save other schools from experiencing what Oxford did.
I hope no one ever has to feel the pain that my community has experienced, let alone the trauma that those in the Oxford High School building now confront everyday.
Proactive healing — politics and legislation — completely aside, I would like to acknowledge the equally-important process of ‘personal healing,’ moving forward from a tragedy like this. Ultimately, a necessary outlet for processing grief and trauma is talking about it. Whether that be in a support group, with a therapist, with a mental health professional at school or with a trusted friend or adult, it is important to talk about your feelings and avoid keeping everything bottled in.
At the community level, a lot of efforts have been made over the past couple of months to help Oxford heal. From memorial funds for the victims, to fundraising to help the survivors cover medical costs, to funding therapy dogs within Oxford High School, our community and our state has truly come together to help aid my community as they move forward from the tragic events of that day.
I urge you to continue sending your love and support to the Oxford community so that we can continue to stay Oxford Strong. To the four souls we lost that day: we will never forget you and the legacies created by the wonderful lives you led will live on forever.
Please consider taking a look at the Oxford Strong linktree to find more ways you can help memorialize the victims and aid the survivors, and my community, in our personal healing.
I love my town with all my heart, and I can already see Oxford bouncing back stronger and more united than ever before. But, I wish we did not have to be Oxford Strong. I wish that we had nothing to ‘heal’ from, and that those four beautiful souls were still with us today. If only the love we have for each other in the Oxford community could keep us alive, we would all live forever. Unfortunately, no amount of love or wishing can bring them back. We can only hold each other a little tighter, say ‘I love you’ a lot more, and move forward the best way we can — together.
Statement Contributor Alyssa Donovan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.