Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, there have been 186 shootings on school campuses in the U.S.
Jeremy Peschard, 21, has lived through two of them.
A murder-suicide at the University of California, Los Angeles on Wednesday marked the second time Peschard has had to find refuge after receiving an alert about an active shooter on campus. For today’s students, who grew up seeing live scenes on TV from Columbine and Sandy Hook, school shootings are the new normal, a normalized threat like a “natural disaster,” said Peschard.
Since Sandy Hook, a gun has been fired on a school campus nearly once a week; 83 shootings occurred at colleges or universities, 25 elementary schools, 58 high schools, 14 middle schools, and 5 pre-schools, according to a Fusion analysis of data collected by Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun safety advocacy group. The number of incidents each year has gone up since the organization started collecting data.
Two years ago on May 23, 2014, Peschard sat in his dorm room during a campuswide lockdown at University of California, Santa Barbara. In the end, a 22-year-old student killed six people and injured 14 others just outside the campus where many students live. Then Peschard transferred to UCLA, his dream school, to double major in History and Geography/Environmental Studies.
Peschard remembers the first thing he did when he heard there was an active shooter near campus in Santa Barbara: text his mother. On Wednesday he did the same thing again. He texted his mother to let her know he was safe.
Fusion spoke to Peschard and asked what life is like when you’re 21 and you’ve lived through two school shootings.
Fusion: Where were you yesterday during the lockdown? How would you describe the scene?
Peschard: I was in Bunche Hall, and there were in total maybe about 30-40 students, staff, and instructors in lockdown on the first floor. I think one of the scariest parts of the entire situation was seeing the genuine fear and horror in people’s faces. There were a lot of rumors being spread online during the entire situation, so everyone was extremely tense and on edge and there were moments that we were all genuinely fearful for what might happen.
There have been at least 186 school shootings in the U.S. since 2013. You've lived through two of those. For young people today, is waiting for the next school shooting the new normal?
I honestly feel like it is, and that’s just the reality of American schools and universities today. Just when you feel like there might be a lull in these types of shootings, another one happens. All anybody seems to be able to do is wait for the next one and pray that you're prepared if it happens to you.
Have you considered the odds that you’ve been on campus twice now during school shootings?
I really haven't statistically considered the odds, but it honestly really just feels like a terrible twist of fate. I'm so fortunate to have come away unscathed both times, but psychologically, it's not an easy thing to go through.
Has it taken some time for you to feel normal at school again?
I think for a lot of students who've attended schools and universities that have experienced active shooter situations, the initial reaction is shock, disbelief that a campus shooting, which everyone by now is so familiar with, is actually happening at their school. That was my initial emotional reaction to the Isla Vista shooting [near UC's Santa Barbara campus]. But this time was different. The reality of the shooting was very apparent and digestible to me immediately. I think today, I was more fearful and subsequently more grateful that my loved ones and I were alright.
The lockdown was the part for me that really gave me flashbacks, so today I spent three hours in Bunche Hall on lockdown, which felt scarily similar to the lockdown of Isla Vista. I was just a freshman then, and the Isla Vista shooting happened at nighttime, so our dorms were completely on lockdown. And that feeling of being shut out from the rest of the world, knowing that anything could be happening outside and that you have no connection to it other than your cell phone, is almost indescribable. It’s scary, and you can’t quite explain it until you’ve been through it, but it’s like being trapped in a suffocating fishbowl.
Today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day. So I’m curious if you have strong feelings about gun laws?
Out of respect for the families of the deceased, I don't want to necessarily politicize their tragedy so soon after the events that took place. But, because this happens so often, because this is my second time experiencing this type of tragedy, and because this is a systemic issue in America today, I have to say yes, I am in adamant support of stricter gun control legislation.
To see and to have met the grief-stricken parents of your dead classmates is heartbreaking, and to be honest, it just feels like America's students and first responders have just been left to fend for ourselves. It feels like all that our senators and representatives in Congress care about is getting their campaign contributions and keeping the gun lobby content with maintaining the status quo.
I feel like my generation has grown up with this issue, and still so little has changed.