MPHS is MY School

marysville fence
Photo by Pedro Gonzales

This is not a story I ever thought I would have to write. One week ago, on Friday, October 24,2014, a fourteen year old boy asked his two male cousins and three female friends to meet him at a table in the Marysville Pilchuck High School cafeteria at lunch. He walked up to them, pointed a .40 caliber Beretta at their heads and fired. Authorities say he then turned the gun on himself and died at the scene. One girl died in the cafeteria, another died two days later. The third girl died exactly one week after being shot. The two boys are still hospitalized, one in critical condition, the other improving. Their recovery will be slow. If they recover at all.

We, the alumni, community, family and friends of Marysville Pilchuck High School feel much the same.

This is my high school. I know every inch of the campus like I know my house. When I heard about the shooting via social media just after 10:30am, I knew exactly what the scene looked like: lunch would have just started, the cafeteria would have been full. I could imagine the screams and the sound of chairs being pushed back and people running and yelling. I knew how many lives were changed everywhere on that campus in such a short time.

No child should ever watch another person die. No child should ever have to drop to the ground or cower in a closet. No child should flee their school in fear. No child should ever have to ask why over and over again knowing there will never be an answer.

My heart breaks again every time I think of it.

The Marysville community is a relatively small one and tightly knit. My mother and her brothers were MPHS graduates and so were my cousins and my brother. That isn’t uncommon in Marysville – generations still live in the area, children attending the same schools  as their parents, sometimes with the same teachers. I know the families of those most directly affected by  the shooting – not personally, but well enough to know they are good people, active community leaders and caring parents. We all want the same things for our kids. This tragedy has left us all reeling.

Much has been and will be said about the hows and why’s of this event. People will use it as a point to prove their various agendas. Others will say snarky, mean things which is what finally made me sit down and write.

This is a community that cares about its people. How we have behaved as families, alumni and community members throughout this tragedy speaks volumes about us. This boy who shot his cousins and friends grew up in this supportive community and yet he still committed this crime. It scares me to think of it, because if he could do this, then there is no easy answer to preventing it in the future.

I was a MPHS student  almost 30 years ago.  It was a rural school, serving the families of farmers and Boeing employees and paper and lumber mill workers. Back then, it was surrounded by cow pastures that earned us the nickname of “Cow Pie High”. Many of the boys I knew hunted and had guns of their own. One of them, a star football player,  accidentally shot himself in the foot cleaning his. But no one would ever have dreamed of shooting a person. It isn’t guns that are the problem, at least not in this situation.

This recent shooter, unlike others, was not a “troubled kid”.  His family didn’t neglect giving him the kind of love you would give your own children or grandchildren. I am sure his parents weren’t perfect, but they probably didn’t screw up any more than I did raising my kids. He was well liked, a football player and recent a Sophomore homecoming prince. He had a bright future ahead of him. Police reviews of his phone and social media accounts  have revealed that he had his heartbroken in that way that fourteen year old kids think they will never recover from. His posts on social media talked about making people “sorry” and that he thought no one knew how badly he was really hurting. Even though he posted his feelings on such a public forum, he still felt alone and unheard. He wasn’t experiencing something unusual, heartbreak is a normal part of the human experience.  But isolation isn’t. Somehow he felt so alone in his pain he took desperate measures. He never knew his pain was just part of growing up.

This is not to excuse him of his crime. But what has been done is done. We will never have someone to punish. No one will apologize. All we can do now is look at how — and if — we can keep this from happening again.

I asked the young men who work with me, all of whom knew someone who was in the cafeteria and saw the shootings that day, why no one paid any attention to those social media posts that in retrospect were asking for intervention. Their response: “We see stuff like that all the time. People just say stuff, they don’t really mean anything by it.”

Have we have cried wolf so often no one listens when the wolf is real? What has happened to us that we can’t type out a simple “Dude, you okay?”

The problem is not guns. The problem is us.

We are all sometimes guilty of creating drama for attention. More often, we turn our backs on others out of laziness, fear, arrogance or ignorance. We do not affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person — even when we disagree with them. We don’t reach out to people because we are too busy or we believe we should mind our own business. We label people in need of help as lazy, sick, or weak instead of in need for the moment. We tell them to get on with life instead of acknowledging their difficult feelings. Expressing emotional pain is socially unacceptable, it isn’t “cool” to make people feel uncomfortable with our vulnerability.

This has to stop.

Our children have grown up too fast and have been subjected to more violence than I ever was. Because kids seem okay with things, we can forget that they are still kids. Fourteen is terribly young. Kids feel especially alone when they think everyone else copes better than they do. When they think they are failing our expectations, they bury their feelings and play tough. They may keep up appearances with their peer group, but really, inside they feel isolated.

My now-grown kids will tell you that there have been many awkward conversations when I have insisted on breaking through that isolation. The young men and women I have had the pleasure of mentoring over the years will tell you the same thing. Even when they don’t seem to want to listen, they need to hear you share your life so that they understand they are not the only ones to have had that experience or to feel that way.

The outpouring of care and concern for the Marysville community has been incredibly healing.  Tragedies like this bring us together, allow for us to give and receive support. Lets keep this love keep flowing. Lets keep being  there for each other. Keep talking to kids and to each other. Hold on to the threads of community we have renewed and grow them. Lets not focus on what makes us different, on what disagreements we’ve had, or what side of the political/social/economic fence we are on. Ignore the big-mouths who want to make this a reason to divide us. We are all the same.

Hug more often.

Chose compassion over cynicism. Dare to care.

MPHS wall

Photo by Chris Daniels, King 5 News, Seattle

37 thoughts on “MPHS is MY School

  1. I really liked that. We all need to reach out to kids. Not just our own. Kids may open up to other adults about things they wouldn’t to their own parents. It takes a village and we all need to participate.

  2. That was awesome! Even though I am a thousand miles away in CA, my heart instantly raced back to MP! You have spoken how many of us feel. Be blessed!

  3. Think you for saying what needed to be said. We all must pull together to ask not “why did this happen” but “how can we show that we care enough to not let it happen again?” Our children need to know that we are willing to stop doing whatever we are doing so that we can give them our undivided attention. To listen to their words, to notice their body language, and to not expect someone else to “fix the problem.” The best gift that we can give our children is to show them that we are there for them by the actions that we give to them.

  4. Your article is absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine anyone putting it into better words. I grew up in the area, and I have known several people who have attended school there. In fact, I have four teenagers of my own now. It just takes staying involved in their lives and sharing a genuine concern for their well-being. They may say that you’re annoying or nosey, but inside, they know that we, as parents, truly do care.

  5. Everything I have been saying this past week….. But I don’t have a blog 😉 Thank you for writing this!! This is EXACTLY what is wrong, you are 100% right! I was hoping that the school board would bring the community together in a time of reflection and someone would stand up and speak at the podium and say exactly these words that you have written. My prayer is that as a society everyone wakes up and pays attention to each other. More love, caring and concern for one another will only lead us all in the right direction and produce positive outcomes. Great job!

  6. This article is truely amazing. It touched me deeply. We need to let this tragedy pull us together as a community for the kids. It is not a time for fighting, blame, threats and such. These kids need to see us United in order to heal. Thanks so much for putting into words what the majority of us have been thinking. Awesome! Lourie

    1. Thank your for reading, Lourie. I am very grateful for the ability to put to words the collective feelings of the community….actually, I am even more grateful that they ARE the collective feelings of the community! We are never alone…..

  7. Wow…this article was really good, a lot of thoughts I’ve been thinking. I too am a graduate from MPHS (1994) and I went to school with some of those kids relatives. Thank you for writing this, if was well said.

  8. I’m totally posting this on my site and hope friends will do the same. The world needs more folks like you as well as my friend Willis who’s responsible for posting this on his site. Thanking you both. Michael

  9. Such a great article and so true. I will be sharing this. Thank you Robyn for writing this and for caring about our wonderful community

  10. I can’t help it, I feel the need to respond. This is a great article and spot on. As an adult (non religious) gay person I feel the aching need and responsibility to add something here while we are at it. My youth (in the Netherlands in the 70ies) wasn’t all that fab knowing I was gay at a young age, indeed at fourteen. (NOT meaning al all this could be the case with this boy btw, I didn’t know him at all, I am telling my OWN story here, just to be clear about that) What especially moved me in this article is this part: “Our children have grown up too fast and have been subjected to more violence than I ever was. Because kids seem okay with things, we can forget that they are still kids. Fourteen is terribly young. Kids feel especially alone when they think everyone else copes better than they do. When they think they are failing our expectations, they bury their feelings and play tough. They may keep up appearances with their peer group, but really, inside they feel isolated.”. That is exactly what hapened to me when I was 14. I was isolated. I had no one to talk to about my feelings. Instead of aiming my anger towards others however I, like so many others as I discovered later in life, did try to take my own life. Lucky for me unsuccesfully. Others were not so lucky however and are no longer among us. Now let’s make a time jump to today. Are things improved in 2014 since the 70ies? I don’t think so. When you are a kid, you STILL can’t tell you are ‘different’ at school, sportclub etc. Last week Tom Cook, topdog at Apple, came out as Gay. In his 50ies. Reading an article about it I saw that, in America, 82% of the gay adult people, man or woman, can not come out of the closet at their work. EIGHTYTWO percent! How can you even function at jour job when this is the case? And: how much beter would these persons perform (profit for their bosses) if they COULD be themselfs for 100%?! I agree that things must change. I am yelling that for over 25 years already. Ofcourse without succes.. What is interesting here is the part that says that he was ‘not a trouble kid’, ‘He was well liked, a football player and recent a Sophomore homecoming prince.” Meaning: an American winner maybe? Not ‘a weak loser’? (…)
    Nevertheless he “had his heartbroken in that way that fourteen year old kids think they will never recover from”.
    I don’t think I will see it happen in my lifetime but I would like to come up for the entire human race and say: yes, maybe NOW in 2014 it is the time to make a change, do things better. Let EVERY kid, straight, gay, whatever, feel loved and wanted. Communicate with each other. The pope tried anyway. If you came this far reading my thoughts about this matter: thank you and I hope ypu agree.

    1. I had to set my coffee down and read this out loud to my partner. It was hard because I was crying. Thank you for you wise words and reminding us of how the LGBTQ community continues to feel isolated. ( have written about this issue in particular in an essay titled It Gets Better on my blog). I agree whole heartedly that limiting who we are in order to fit into a narrowly defined category of “alright” is terribly debilitating for us as individuals and a society. It was my point exactly that this boy seemed to have it all as we define it from the outside looking in, and yet it was not enough to prevent him from feeling alone.

      I am glad that you were not successful in your suicidal intentions when you were young – the world needs more people like you in it!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write…writers feel isolated too and it is nice to see we have really reached people!

  11. Why must the LGBTQ even be brought up here!!! Not the time or the place! Shameful!!! So tired of everything turning into a poor “gay” issue. You made a choice and NO ONE wants to hear about your sexuality!!! Especially not HERE! Great article and thank you for taking time to put into words what so many feel. It is far more reaching then just in Marysville. Oak Harbor that gave up a game only to have Marysville give Oak Harbor the trophy. There are so many amazing stories that have come out of this tragedy. While I personally am sickened by this event, I am more upset that the shooter, ‘a nice kid’, is almost given an OK for his cowardice act. We MUST teach our children when they are hurting this badly that it is part of Life and to seek assistance from someone, anyone that will listen and social media is NOT the place to vent when one needs help! A real, speaking adult….If this “nice kid” had so much going for him, why didn’t he seek out help from others! Not necessarily his parents, though that would be the best place for him to have gone but a tribe elder, school staff, anyone but what he did. As adults we MUST talk to our teens and tell them these feelings are OK but actions are not. And adults need to recognize that it is not the same world we lived as teens….All I can offer is reach out, find a teen to mentor, a big brother, sister and maybe, just maybe one tragedy like this will be diverted!

    1. Tam – I couldn’t agree more that adult mentoring is critical in helping kids become healthy adults. The “It takes a whole village to raise a chid” concept. Thank you for reading my piece!

  12. My heart goes out to all the “survivors” and how this tradgedy will affect their lives. I never thought I would hear a story about my school, 3000 miles was not far enough to escape the empty feelings this has left me with!

  13. Reminds me personally of when I worked as a school social worker in the past and working with teens/families related to suicide, shootings, accidents, etc. There are so many hurting teens we need to help! We need to more openly discuss with teens their feelings, etc.

  14. @tam: I’m sorry, but I believe there is no need for yelling at me. (you used a bit too many ‘!!!!’ if you ask me) If you really think my comment was just a ‘poor gay issue’ you are totally missing the point I was trying to make. My whole point was: parents (and not only the mother!) should be more close to their kids, know what is going on in their heads. Be their safety net in general so they will not feel this kind of unhappiness. And, for that matter, if you really think being gay is ‘a choice people make’ you are failing at least one person in your family or in your group of friends and prooves my comment has value. Communicate. Talk to each other.

  15. Such a GREAT article!!!! Wish everyone would read this because everyone needs to really think about how we can come together and help kids understand their feelings and let them know things will be okay, things are never SO bad….

  16. Very well written Robyn and very true. I have always tried to keep a very open communication between me and my kids. They both know they can come to me or my wife with anything and not be judged. CK is right in his own story. My point is that there are all kinds of communication issues with kids today. They don’t feel like they can always turn to adults with a lot of things and sex is a really big one. We will never know for sure why he did it or what he was feeling at the time that it happened. As for the comment tam made, I have now problem with this bringing to light the LGBTQ issues because they are real and you do not just decide one day you feel like being bisexual or whichever you choose. What I have a problem with is the politicians and other people that use this to try and pass their gun control bills like I594. They are disrespectful in doing that and I think they should have all their comments deleted or thrown out of the conversation. The bottom line is that parenting today is not like it was when we were kids. We never had to worry about a shooting in school and it saddens me that it happens as often as it does today. I am an alumni from Marysville Pilchuck High School class of 1987. Thanks Robyn for a very well written article.

  17. CK, I was not yelling…..Yelling on the Net I thought was all in caps! Anyway, My opinion and my response is just that! I do not understand why everything has to come into play here. It is a tragedy that will take a long time to heal and the gay issue has NO place here! Period! The gun issues that debates can start from are perhaps valid but again, the political side has no bearing here! This is a community that has deep roots with guns whether anyone likes it on not. And the shooter, his family, friends and community are all gun owners, legal gun owners. But again, the point is missed as it is NOT the gun that killed! No gun can kill, it is the user that is the killer and a choice all gun owners take. No different then a car, knife or cigarette; not the object but the user is in control! Sadly once the hurt and sadness fade away, it will turn to anger and blame. And the only thing I can say, is the shooter made a horrible choice because of a breakup. Maybe we can blame video games, TV shows, media and these that produce this be held more accountable. But the sad reality is it will be up to the family. While I agree somewhat with the “village mentality” it is ultimately the parents responsibility and they should be held accountable to some degree. If one allows their child to have the social media, exposure to violence, sex, etc. then some where at some point, we as a society must ask why is it OK for this type thing for our teens acceptable. I can proudly say my child NEVER did any video games. I did keep a rein, some times tight and others not. But I am ultimately responsible for my child and their actions! As long as one lives under my roof. The debates on issues especially what we can do for our teens is one we as adults are and can take responsibility of. Mentor a child in need, treat others more kindly and accept other’s opinions, we all have something to offer whether we agree with it or not!

    1. The gay issue does not really relate to the shooter. I was just trying to point out, as I think was CK, that it is one of the many issues that needs to be worked on in our society. Not even gun control has an issue with what happened. I let my daughter play video games but I also talked to my kids about them to make sure they knew that was not what real life is like. If they had got to into them to the point of it being a problem then it would have stopped. I also set an administrator user with only a password I knew and used parental controls on my kids account. So the sex was not an issue and it shouldn’t be with any child under 18. It is up to the parenting of the child so if you are going to blame it on social media don’t start. It is up to the parents to set a good example and keep good communication with their child which includes talking to them about what is going on and caring about it.

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