Bearing Witness: Another Perspective from South Florida

Sometimes our children provide us with our most important messages.

As many of you know, LP Magazine spent most of the past week in Fort Lauderdale, FL, as part of an outstanding industry event that brought loss prevention practitioners and solution providers together to learn, network, and most importantly, to partner—searching for solutions to some of the industry’s current challenges.

But it’s just as important that we take a moment to recognize other events that have captured and focused the nation’s attention in this part of the world. For much of the week, the skies of the Sunshine State were fittingly overcast in south Florida. What you may or may not know is that Fort Lauderdale is just minutes away from Parkland, FL, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where seventeen lives were lost on February 14. Countless others are left to grieve the horrendous and inexplicable loss in the aftermath of a tragedy sparked by a deeply troubled young man.

Every day we were there, we witnessed firsthand the heartache as a community mourned, celebrated, and then buried their loved ones in the days following the tragedy. A cloud still remains as the people of Parkland look for the best ways to move forward while dealing with what was lost.

Yet through the pain that so many here are experiencing, we have also seen this community come together. We’ve witnessed these inspiring young men and women fight through the greatest and most unconscionable tragedy of their young lives, demanding that our country’s leaders set aside politics and petty differences while insisting upon real change.

With the purity of young minds and the passion and clarity of simple truths, these high school students forced a meeting with the most powerful leader in the free world, expecting nothing less than the safety and security that every child should assume when they walk through the doors of what should be a haven for education. They’ve asked tough questions of many different government leaders, and refused to accept the trappings of “spin” or the distraction of redirection, asking the “whys” and “why nots” that have long needed answers.

There are those that may question why we would venture into this discussion. But spending the biggest part of a week in the shadow of such a heart-wrenching reality, it feels more like an obligation to share a little additional perspective with our loss prevention family. Tears flow much more freely when experiencing what so many have felt firsthand; and while we can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for a student to watch while their closest friends fall, or the experience of a parent fighting every conceivable emotion wondering whether their child was a victim or a survivor, we should all be able to hear their message and support their cause.

On my flight home, I shared a plane with a family from Parkland that decided to pull their children from school to spend some time with family in North Carolina. I listened as a father and mother volunteered their story, their two children still unable to share their own personal experiences. To respect their privacy, I won’t share much more other than to say that their experience was not unlike others that we’ve heard over the past week—or past several years, for that matter. While grateful survivors, they simply wanted a sabbatical, still feeling tremendous pain for lives changed and friends lost.

While in Florida, I also learned of another tragic story that hit close to home. A thirteen-year-old boy walked into an Ohio middle school just minutes from my current home—a school that I attended (more than a few) years ago when I was his age—with a semi-automatic rifle, several clips loaded with rounds of ammunition, and a despondent mission. He rode the bus and walked right into the school with the rifle hidden under his jacket without detection. Tragically, we may never know the personal grief that led to his decisions or his intentions for bringing a loaded weapon and additional rounds of ammunition into the school, as he stepped into the men’s lavatory and took his own life soon after arriving. 

Most may not have heard that news story, as this particular young man ultimately chose to focus his pain and frustration on himself. As adults, we realize that when we’re teenagers, the world revolves around the here and now. Our thoughts and emotions are amplified, while our limited experience with life lessons tells us we’re more than capable of adapting to life’s many curve balls. Yet, while it could have been much worse, this unfortunate story reminds us that this can happen anywhere—and much too often, even in our own backyard.

One of the greatest blessings of our remarkable country is our diversity of minds, individuals, and opinions. It is our unalienable right to listen and be heard, having the courage and determination to hear someone stand at a pulpit and passionately share an opinion that we might just as passionately oppose. But there is also a time to set aside whatever differences we may have and get things done. Regardless of our positions or politics, we can all agree that we need to come together and protect the most precious resource that we have.

Compromise is a word we should all be willing to discuss and accept, as long as compromise takes us in the right direction. The worst possible decision is to do nothing. Our children deserve answers. They deserve action. They deserve a future. Let’s make sure they have one. As we are all well aware, our most critical mission is to work together, find solutions, and get things done.

Following Up on Our Story

On Thursday, March 1st we learned that the Ohio middle school student who killed himself did in fact have plans to carry out another school massacre. As documented in very disturbing notes discovered on his cell phone, the teen said that he wanted to leave “a lasting impression on the world,” detailing a plan to kill as many as possible and “bigger than anything this country has ever seen,” according to a news briefing from the local police chief.

The teen compared himself to the Columbine, Colorado school shooters. His notes indicate that he had access to firearms and an 8-step plan to carry out the plan on the students and faculty of Jackson Memorial Middle School. Additional investigation into the incident is ongoing.

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