Preparing for the Worst

I like to prepare for things. If you know me at all, you might actually be surprised by that. “Hanna, prepared?” you may be asking yourself. “She’s a constant mess. She’s not prepared.”

I’m not necessarily talking about school assignments or financial planning (although I probably should) — I’m talking about physical safety. I have band-aids and ibuprofen and a charged phone and an escape route. I wear shoes I know I would be able to run in, if need be. I am not preparing for anything in particular … just life in general.

I have no idea how I would prepare for a school shooting.

I had an great conversation Friday with Sarah Ng, an MU student who helped to report on the October suicide of Ashland, Mo., teen Jared Meadows.  She made a very interesting point: it’s almost impossible to emotionally prepare for reporting on tragedy.

You can have a charged phone. You can have all the lenses for your camera. You can ask the right questions. But you can’t really prepare yourself for a situation like a suicide of a 17-year-old high schooler.

And that terrifies me.

School shooting response training for police officers and firefighters has increased across the nation. Schools themselves are taking school shooting preparation more seriously, by whatever means they consider appropriate for that city’s gun control law and gun culture.

What about journalists? We can’t run drills. Our newsrooms don’t get funding to to train us, no matter how willing the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma is to teach us.

We take Katherine’s class. That’s what we do. We study research and read studies and talk to experts. We scramble for someone who has seen it, felt it, and we beg them to teach us their ways.

We refuse to be the forgotten survivors of trauma.
That doesn’t mean I’m still terrified. So many gun deaths are kids, barely old enough to legally drive. I don’t know how to keep it together during that.

A February study “Young Guns: How Gun Violence is Devastating the Millennial Generation” (Center for American Progress), spearheaded by Chealsea Parsons and Anne Johnson, outlines the growing, overwhelming connection between young Americans and fatal gun violence. And the results are chilling: In 2010, 21 percent in people killed by guns were under the age of 25.

Courtesy of: Center for American Progress
Courtesy of: Center for American Progress

They’re just kids.

It’s something about life being snatched away from those who have barely begun to live that makes me scared to be a reporter. I don’t even truly know what I would have done in Sarah’s position — being sent off to investigate a potential bomb threat that ended in the tragic, confusing death of a high schooler. Seth Boster, another MU student, wrote a heartbreakingly well-written piece on Meadows’ death and the high school band’s mourning.

It’s all beautiful.
And I don’t know if I could ever write it.
So what am I doing in journalism?

Learning how to be a visible survivors, hopefully.


3 thoughts on “Preparing for the Worst

  1. I feel this same way about going into education. I could read all the books in the world and I could never, EVER be prepared for the things that I will learn and experience in the classroom. What if one of my students its being raped by a relative at home? I obviously report it, but how do I go about the day NOT just concentrating on their poor kid. Or what if one of my kiddos takes their life like the teen from Ashland? How do you move on from that? This is so raw and I relate to all of the feels. You’re great.

  2. Young gun deaths are sad, but I’m not surprise at the age range of 15-24. There’s a lot of gang violence at that age as well. I can’t count the number of times I hear about a shooting where the gunman is within that age range shooting at others in that age. Sometimes, I think that is the most dangerous decade of anyone’s life. A woman/girl is most likely to be the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend or husband within that age range as well.

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