I got a text from my teen at 8:52 Tuesday morning. It was that text; the one you read about in news reports that usually come from the U.S. It doesn't come from one of your own children. The ones you promised yourself you would always protect.
"Lockdown at school," then "Someone pulled a knife." Not much to go on, but enough to send that infamous chill down your spine. I wasn't far from school, so I raced over, my muddy dog still in the back seat, dreading what I knew I would find. Experience watching other tragedies on television taught me what to expect.
The circus was in town. There were ambulances, police cars, small clusters of nervous students and parents. The media vans were on the streets and parked on the grassy boulevard, crews were unloading cameras and reporters were smoothing down their clothes before they went live. Helicopters circled overhead. I felt like an extra in a terrible movie of the week.
Parents were trying to piece together what had happened. The students who were outside, some without coats and shivering, were all busy texting on their phones. They weren't sure how to respond when approached by reporters for interviews.
There are many children and teens who are feeling all levels of pain, depression and torment that could potentially lead to this kind of desperation. Are we listening?
Every time a camera swung in my direction, I turned away. I didn't want my personal distress to end up on the nightly news. As I was shielding my own pain from others, I would later realize that the young attacker was also hiding hers.
I almost didn't write this today. I'm still not sure how I feel. I didn't want to write for the wrong reasons. I'm a parent first, and my instincts were to hide my family away and wish yesterday's events in Pickering had never happened.
But I know my community is also feeling the pain and hurt, confused about why a Grade 9 girl would arm herself on a typical Tuesday morning and start slashing knives at fellow students, teachers and staff.
At only 14 years old, the accused attacker is protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act and will remain nameless in the media. However, it appears that she didn't shy away from blogging on social media, and there are reports of her posting dire and anguished messages on what seems to be her social media account.
It appears she was hoping for someone to notice. But nobody did. Not until much too late.
In several posts that were screen-grabbed and shared on Twitter (the original posts have since been taken down), the messages indicate this young teen was trying to find ways to end her pain. One entry reads, "What I'd REALLY love is to die. But Canada apparently doesn't have death sentences. Maybe I can get the police to shot and kill me at the school when they show up. That would be nice."
The posts (if they were actually written by the suspect) are tagged with #murder and #suicide hashtags. It certainly gives the impression of someone who was reaching out, looking for help. We don't know anything about this girl's life or home situation and I will absolutely not make any guesses.
Beyond this one incident, though, there are many children and teens who are feeling all levels of pain, depression and torment that could potentially lead to this kind of desperation. Are we listening?
Canada is having more conversations about mental health, and that is encouraging, but we need to do more to ensure people have access to the kinds of resources they need. We need to stop hiding our pain.
As parents, we can ask our kids to tell us when they see someone who seems to be behaving unusually or posting messages that are concerning. We can give to resources like Kids Help Phone, and donate to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation (CAMH) to help reduce the stigma of mental health so people aren't afraid to ask for help. We need to petition our elected officials for more affordable mental health services, too.
CMHA says that an estimated 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder, and in Canada, only one in five children who need mental health services receives them.
And how can students help each other on a daily basis? Can we change the outcome of days like yesterday if we teach our kids how to be a good friend -- to listen, to be empathetic and to know what the warning signs are?
If the teenagers committing violent crimes like these (or even contemplating them) had someone they trusted to turn to, who believed them, could that help them find a different solution to their pain?
In light of #PinkShirtDay and yesterday's traumatic events, perhaps just one friend could make the difference for so many kids. Could you be that one friend for somebody?
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