Originally posted here in The Orlando Sentinel’s New Voices column on November 4, 2006.
The 3,576 students at University High School lost our innocence Oct. 19, when one of us was stabbed to death on campus. Of course, we are saddened whenever an act of violence occurs elsewhere — the Amish schoolhouse massacre, the Colorado shooting come to mind. Yes, these were sad.
Yet you never know how it truly feels until violence knocks at your door. I have seen pictures of Columbine — the horrified parents and crying kids. I never thought it would happen here.
I have walked all over our campus and on the bus loop thousands of times. I spend more time at school than anywhere else. I have shared so many happy moments here; I can think of dozens of times my friends and I have been goofing off by the bus loop. Now, when I look back, we were playing in a future murder scene. I could never imagine it blocked off by yellow caution tape one day.
No, I was not scared to go back to school. I feel relatively safe there. The administrators, police and teachers did an excellent job. They did the best they could do to keep the rest of us calm and safe. But there is that voice in the back of my head: What if there is a next time? What if it is one of my friends next? What if it is me? I know I shouldn’t “what if,” but every time I walk past the bus loop, I will. The questions are something I am going to have to live with.
I am thankful that it wasn’t worse than this. I am thankful that those I hold dear are still here. I won’t take them for granted. I won’t take every little happy moment at school for granted any more.
No, I didn’t know Michael Nieves and don’t know Kelvin De La Cruz. I don’t know anyone who was extremely close to them. But they went to my school. They walked through the same hallways I do. Michael was a 15-year-old sophomore like me. Therefore, it hits me so hard. How could this happen? How can society claim to have progressed so much when we have kids killing kids? How many more Michaels will it take for people to wake up?
I didn’t know Michael. I don’t know Kelvin. But I do know that most of our 3,576 students kissed their mothers goodbye on the morning of Oct. 19 — and only 3,574 of them returned home.