After Newtown: Teaching kids to 'play dead' to survive a gunman's rage

After last week's massacre in Newtown, parents may find themselves teaching their children how to play dead. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2012 ― One child at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School survived the massacre in her classroom. Just one. She did it by pretending to be dead. She lay still among bloody corpses of her classmates and was the only child from her class to run out from the building after the carnage.

Her 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.

Associated Press/David Goldman

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 certain survival skills early on.

In 2009, 2,793 children and teens died from guns in the United States, the Children’s Defense reports this year.  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). 

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.  

“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.


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
 
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
 
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
 
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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