The narratives following two people opening fire on students at a Colorado charter school May 7 were predictably framed in politics.
Gun control advocates assailed the lack of government action to limit the access to firearms in the wake of another deadly active shooter incident, just as they had after Parkland, Santa Fe, Las Vegas and every other recent incident.
Gun rights advocates countered with calls for arming teachers and investigating the shooters’ political leanings, just as they had after every other recent incident.
The children of STEM School Highland Park who faced the gunmen, losing a heroic classmate in the process, would have none of it. Good for them, as their statement spoke volumes about how we treat victims of school violence.
During a vigil the night after the schooling advertised as a tribute to Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old killed when he charged the gunmen to give his schoolmates an opportunity to seek cover and escape, a pair of Democratic politicians pulled out tired lines about gun control. Instead of rallying behind the calls for action, the students acted — they walked out.
Families apparently were unaware the vigil had been organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which had invited the public and local media. “This is not for us,” “political stunt” and “we are people, not a statement,” were among the statements heard by the departing students, according to USA Today.
Gathering outside the rally, they chanted repeatedly, “Mental health! Mental health!”
The accused shooter and his accomplice have a history of mental health challenges, local reporters have discovered.
One is a transgender boy and struggled with not having his father — who has been deported three times — a consistent presence in his life and had problems with classmates, according to reporting by the Denver ABC affiliate. That 16-year-old suspect grew up in an atmosphere of family violence, the station reported.
The mother of the older suspect, an 18-year-old who allegedly did all the shooting with stolen handguns, told police her son encountered significant mental health challenges in the days preceding the assault. Classmates said he, too, had issues with other students.
Neither apparently received the level of counseling and support they needed to cope with their psychological struggles. If they had, access to guns would have been irrelevant.
As Texas leaders addressed school security measures in the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shootings almost a year ago, we lauded the attention to providing resources to deal with the mental health component as among the most important ideas. Whether bullying, mental illness, ostracization or family problems, active shooting incidents consistently are carried out by someone with known psychological issues.
The chant of the STEM Highland Park students is one that should be carried out whenever discussion of mass violence takes place. Get to the mental health roots, and the politicized gun rights talks will take place far less often.