A candlelight vigil held following the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo.
Associated Press/Photo by Karl Gehring/The Denver Post
A candlelight vigil held following the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo.

This is not a drill: Parenting in the age of school shootings


CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – “Attention all students and staff! This is not a drill! We are in lockout. Repeat: We are in lockout!” the intercom screeched at my kids’ high school early Friday afternoon.

My daughter was in chemistry class at the time, slogging through a lab report. Her teacher immediately closed and locked the classroom door, telling concerned students to continue with their work. But a minute later, a classmate jumped up, held up his phone and cried out, “There’s a shooting at Arapahoe High School! Right now!” Everyone scrambled for their phones and tablets to watch the live stream of events happening about 20 miles north of them, the chemistry lab completely forgotten.

Students returning to Castle View High School from off-campus lunch reported having their backpacks searched before they could enter the building. Officials escorted students in groups of 20 to attend class in the mobile classrooms located on the school’s front lawn. Meanwhile at Castle Rock Middle School, also in a lockout, students were instructed to turn off all cell phones and electronic devices.

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“I’m pretty sure they made us turn everything off because they didn’t want us to find out what was going on and get scared,” said my niece, who attends the middle school.

I was home eating lunch that day when my husband threw open the front door and yelled to turn on the TV. As I watched policemen with assault rifles march hundreds of students out of Arapahoe High School with their arms raised above their heads, I became overwhelmed with concern for my children—and had questions for God: How do I talk to my six teenagers, currently locked in their schools down the street, about yet another school shooting? How do we keep them safe? How do we renew their hope?

My husband and I have tried to teach our teens that though life isn’t fair and sometimes bad things happen, God is still good, and He will help us overcome adversity (see Psalm 71:20-21 and Ephesians 6:10-17). We’ve also sought to provide them with an environment where they can receive help, healing, and hope when the tough times inevitably come. We have had dozens of family dinner discussions, practiced forgiveness and reconciliation, attended a vibrant youth group, and embraced professional mental health services when needed. But when the rubber meets the road, like it did this week, would the training be enough?

My 16-year-old daughter, Mariah, provided the answer.

“Wanna hear thesong I just wrote?” she asked. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I listened to Mariah sing “What We Don’t Have,” a song with unexpectedly discerning lyrics inspired by the shooting earlier in the day (see the video clip below).

The song concludes, “And why does it come to things like this to open up our eyes? / We stand here in fear of what we’ve become / because we are a hopeless people.”

“Is there hope for a hopeless people?” I asked her.

“There is always a hope for hopeless people in Jesus Christ,” she replied. “There will be no change in our country without God because He is the only real hope.”

Sarah Padbury
Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.


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