Newtown Elementary: Play Dead May Be the New “Stop Drop and Roll”

Newtown Elementary: Play Dead May Be the New “Stop Drop and Roll”


One sole child in one of the classes at Sandy Hook Primary school massacred on Friday survived by pretending to be dead. She lay still among bloody corpses of classmates and was the only child to run out from the building after the carnage, carried out by a 20-year old gunman, left 28 people dead including 20 children.

The recount, as reported in the UK Daily mail, is chilling.

“I’m okay but all of my friends are dead,” the unnamed 6 year old is reported having told her mother.

The story had me thinking of my sister who recently told me that after the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, she sat my niece, her then 5-year old daughter down, and instructed her to drop to the floor should she ever hear what sounds like gun fire and pretend to be dead.

Back then, I found that an odd and non-age appropriate thing to instruct such a young child but this weekend, as I read this account of this brave young girl, I now see my initial assessment lacked forethought.

And of course, interviews from residents of the cottage town solemnly exclaimed in TV interviews that stuff like this doesn’t happen in towns like theirs.

It’s what most citizens of cozy close knit communities say when they are struck with unthinkable acts of wanton violence like what happened Friday. But in Newtown’s case, it was extraordinarily accurate.

Neighborhood crime stats show it is one of the safest towns nationwide with little to no crime.

But one can’t help but think that statements like those also come with the automatic connotation of knowledge that in other places, gun violence may be routine or common;  abroad in war torn nations and domestically, in gang-filled streets of some urban inner cities.

Growing up in a gritty city block myself, I know that my own elementary school had bars on some windows and bullet proof glass on others. Not because there was an expectation that little grade schoolers would tote a gun to school, but because the community it was in was littered with some drug addicts who could do anything to score their next hit.  Indeed, in one year, some burglars managed to break in by shooting out an unprotected window and robbing the school of valuable scant resources like computers and other electronic equipment.

And to think, considering Friday’s gunman got in the school building by shooting out the windows, bullet proof glass may have had some helpful effect and bought some time.

Back then, and I would imagine even now in other epicenters nationwide, some parents of children as young as kindergarten instructed their children to stay low should they hear the crackle of gunfire and to avoid certain troubled blocks on the route home from school.  The circumstances of those  communities made it so some kids had to learn gritty survival skills early on.

In 2009, 2,793 children and teens died from guns in the United States, the Children’s Defense reports.  In 2008, 88 preschoolers died from guns and 85 in 2009. That rate was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2008 (41) and 2009 (48). Black children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009, yet were only 15 percent of the total child population, the report continues. Black males 15 to 19- years old were eight times as likely as White males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun homicide in 2009. It was the leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009

The most recent analysis of data from 23 industrialized nations shows that 87 percent of the children under age 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. The gun homicide rate in the United States for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined rate for the other nations.  Of the 116,385 children and teens killed by a gun since 1979, when gun data by age were first collected, 44,038 were Black. Even so, more White than Black children and teens have died from gun violence.

“Can we truly say as a nation that we are doing enough to help all of our children?” President Obama asked Sunday evening during an interfaith memorial service and vigil for the Newtown victims.

So many before today knew very well that answer before it was asked.

And after Friday, we are learning that schools nationwide are taking extra precaution and requesting police officers patrol their school lots. Some administrators are perhaps fearful of dreaded copy cat criminals, as discussed in a FBI directive  assessing school shooters.

And in homes nationwide, parents too have to grapple with the decision of whether they too should be arming their children with information that would increase their chances of surviving an armed gunman.

“Play dead,” will be the new parental directive.

Imagine, now for most parents, we are no longer in a world where stranger danger and stop drop and roll are the only things they have to warn their kids about – It’s a new world order out there.

Friday was a harrowing reminder that the problem of gun violence with children is not unique to one group of people or certain communities any longer, but is something that all communities nationwide need to be prepared to address and face head on.