By Molly Darnell
Last year I woke up on the morning of Nov. 30 as a wife, mother, educator, friend and colleague. By the time I would come home, three unrecognizable labels had been given to me: victim, wounded, and survivor. It would take me almost a full year to accept them as part of my life story, and in doing so the past roles I was proud to wear reshaped themselves.
I will refrain from telling you all of it, but there are parts you should know to understand the impact this has had on my life. There are other things I want you to know because they are details that need to be spoken.
I was alone in my room when a commotion in the hall started. Within seconds I heard an announcement, doors slamming and three pops. They were so close together it was difficult for me to distinguish which came first or which came last, but without the former I could have easily mistaken those pops for lockers slamming.
As I raced to shut my door, I grabbed the Nightlock on the wall. Through my peripheral vision, I noticed movement in the glass window that runs floor to ceiling on the left side of my door. I locked eyes with a student I did not know. I watched as he raised his gun to me. My reaction to move right, and the door between us, saved my life. It allowed only one of the three shots fired to enter and exit my upper left arm, missing my heart by 6 inches.
For 20 minutes, I stayed barricaded in my room before alerting anyone that I was struck. By then, I had used my cardigan as a tourniquet, and I had called my husband, whispering every word. I was not critically wounded. I waited for that deafening silence to change while I lied to myself and others that I was safe.
When the sounds outside my door seemed to shift, I texted the colleague next door to me who alerted the police and administration that I was injured. By the time law enforcement extracted me from my room, shock had taken over. My entire being went into emotional overload; I was left emotionless.
My husband took me home from the hospital in clothing that felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar. What I had put on that morning was removed by the hospital staff and taken as evidence. In every way possible, the person I was when I left for work that morning was taken. The life I had – the life I knew – was stolen.
Robbed of my sense of security and my ability to navigate the world with the same confidence and understanding, I have withdrawn from my old life. Through months of trauma therapy, such as EMDR, and practicing exposure therapy in places that I no longer felt secure, I learned I could do really hard things. I don’t just visit fear, shame, anger and sadness; I sit with it.
Following months of quiet meditation, writing to process my changing emotions, reading about trauma, and trying to understand who I am now, I realized I needed a new set of challenges. In August I made the necessary decision to leave the high school. A home I have known for over 20 years. I remain in Oxford as a teacher at Oxford Virtual Academy. I’m happy and sad all at the same time.
As an educator, I trusted that the families we serve are part of a reciprocal relationship. That trust was betrayed not only on November 30th but every single day leading up to it. The parents’ decision to not get their son help, but rather to purchase him a high-capacity weapon that was left accessible to him according to his own admission of guilt, brought devastation to an entire community. I’m angry. Angry at their selfish decisions. Angry for what they did not do. Angry for their disregard for our community.
What I experienced in the months that followed was kindness and generosity from people within and well beyond the borders of Oxford. I needed that. But I also need change.
If you have spent enough time in education, you have been witness to loss and heartache. The most painful lesson I have learned this year is that the greatest loss is your own. Once you know that pain, it changes you. You no longer witness it, you feel it in every corner of your body when it happens to someone else.
Schools are sacred spaces where students can thrive if they feel safe. Our greatest strength is in our collective voices to advocate for safety and security of ourselves, our students, and the communities we serve. I encourage you to examine your needs and use your voice.
Since joining Oxford Community Schools in 1998, Molly Darnell has been a high school English Language Arts teacher and secondary ELA coach, in addition to coordinator of the Middle Years Programme of the district’s International Baccaulareate programme.
Over the years Darnell has served as student council advisor, adventure club sponsor, a member of the North Central Accreditation Target Committee, a mentor teacher, and a member of International Baccaulareate Schools of Michigan.
She was named Oxford High School’s Teacher of the Year in 2003 and 2011.
Read all of our stories detailing the Oxford school community at one year: