I had an impromptu meeting Monday morning with Sutro Elementary School Principal Cheryl Sample regarding an incident I had just heard about on Friday.
My daughter and I picked up one of the girls who would be celebrating Natalie's birthday with us, and on the way home, she told me about a conversation that happened on the bus before spring break.
"Natalie gave me my invitation and (a boy who will remain nameless), grabbed it out of my hands and said he would be bringing a gun and crashing the party. When I said we'd call the cops, he said he'd bring extra bullets."
"Excuse me? Why am I just now hearing about this?" I asked. The girls explained they had gone to school administration and told their story but thought maybe the boy had not been talked with. They went on to say we'd just passed this boy who was playing on our street.
Checking my temper and turning the truck around, two little girls huddled in the back seat, I drove up to a cluster of kids.
"Which of you is (name here)?" I asked. A boy raised his hand and in a conversational, calm voice I verified his name and asked where he lived. He happily supplied all the info, including the make and color of vehicles his parents drove.
"Well, I am Karel and I understand you said you'd be coming to my daughter's birthday party with a gun that you intended to use and bringing extra bullets for the cops. Did you say that?"
At this point he was already stammering, apologizing and saying he was "just kidding."
"Here's what it looks like," I said to him, in my calmest "I'm the mom and if you screw with my kids you'll regret breathing air" voice.
"First, there is nothing funny about saying things like that ... nothing to joke about especially when we see children dying because they were shot by other children. Are we clear?"
He nodded his head in agreement, his eyes big, big, big.
"Also (name here), I need you to understand that if I EVER, ever hear any of this talk again, I will go to the police and then to your parents. Can we agree that would be appropriate?"
More head nodding.
"Can we agree this will not happen again?"
More stammering and head nodding
"Then, great! I don't think there's anything else to say here," I said, giving him a thumbs up. "Are we good?"
"Yes, we're good. I'm sorry."
The boy has waved at me every time he's seen me since. But I was horrified when about noon on the same Monday I talked with the principal, I turned on the television and was met by the Virginia Tech shooting.
Why the repeats?
I was a reporter many years ago in California when the first school shooting in my memory took place at Yuba City High School. We went back to the newsroom and began covering the story. It was unbelievable. I couldn't get my head around it then; April 20, 1999, I was disembarking from a flight back from Cabo San Lucas and was greeted by the horror of Columbine. I broke down in the crowded airport in Dallas. That event was no less believable, and none since have gotten any easier to accept.
We're so worried about terrorists. What terrorists are these? These are our children. Ours. Are these children bullied or excluded by others? Sadly and often, yes. There are myriad reasons.
And at school. The one place a child should be safe. Period. The one place a child should be a child, and a student should be free to worry about nothing more than making the grade.
God help me I don't know what the answer is. All I know is that children (all ages) killed by other children in institutions of learning is not something we should ever get used to or not be vigilant about. Moments like these, I'm left with such deep sadness that even prayer seems ineffectual, though that's where I go to get through the grief that rips at my heart.
Because clearly, I don't know what else to do, or think. Or say.
• Contact reporter Karel Ancona-Henry at email@example.com or 246-4000.