“Over her dead body would they hurt her kids,” Lafferty said forcefully. “That’s just who she was.”
Lafferty told her story of emotional devastation Wednesday evening before a crowd of about 200 people at the Washoe County Legislative Chambers during a school safety forum hosted by State Sen. Debbie Smith, in collaboration with the Washoe County School District. Smith said the community is still healing from the Sparks Middle School shooting, which was closely followed by a shooting at Renown Medical Center.
Lafferty was not alone, however. Survivors and witnesses of shootings, like the one at an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, US Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Ariz. and the Virginia Tech University in 2007, shared their experiences and fielded questions from the public while offering a much needed comfort to the community.
“I noticed overwhelming similarities in how the grieving process is going and people are really just trying to heal,” Lafferty said after spending the day meeting with Sparks Middle School staff. “We are all thrown into this horrible thing and in some twisted way it helps you feel better to know that there are other people out there that really do get it.
“My goal of this visit was to try to help connect the Sparks teachers with the Sandy Hook teachers so they can have that relationship that they all desperately need, because it is a unique situation.”
Lafferty said she was able to comprehend and accept her situation following the shooting when she met Colin Goddard, a graduate of Virginia Tech, who was shot four times during the massacre that killed 33 people. Goddard shared his story of the nine and a half minutes that “felt like hours” and left him with a new outlook on life.
“I made a few decisions following that event that really kept me going,” Goddard said. “I chose to go back to school and not transfer, and every one of us who were injured did the same and received our degrees. I also tried to find a way to turn the negative into a positive.
“There is no one thing that you can do to help bring a positive light out of the situation, but you find your own way and you find what works for you. I think that really helps you understand what you were a part of and find a new way of existing in the world.”
Washoe County School District officials and safety managers interacted with concerned citizens and discussed ways to improve school safety, which allowed for a question-and-answer session and private one-on-one conversations. Senator Smith, who put three kids through Sparks Middle School and still lives in Sparks, said bringing in outside help to help define the community’s next step was a crucial part of moving forward.
“Everyone deals with things at their own pace and in their own way,” Smith said. “I think that is what’s important about hearing from people from other communities who have been through this. They have all dealt with it in different ways and they are comfortable speaking about it, but initially they wanted to stay home and hibernate for a while.
“I think there are many things we can learn and be proactive at and do an even better job. We have plenty to learn from our panelists today about how to improve safety and keep our schools secure in the future.”
Amanda Caine, a parent of three children and an advocate for responsible gun ownership, said she was happy to see the forum was well attended and that it brought to light some issues facing schools around the nation. She said it was the first step in a long line of keeping students and workplaces safe.
“I think it is great they are actually doing something about it,” Caine said. “I think more people should be educated on the legislation involved in this. It doesn’t have to be a ban on guns. I think responsible gun owners should be able to own their AKs or their ARs, but I do think we need legislation to ensure that the wrong people are not getting those guns.
“It affects me a lot. I am a mother, and imagining being one of those parents who show up at a school and find out their child wasn’t going to walk out makes any mother emotional.”
Susan Payne, founder of safety initiative Safe2Tell, developed after the shooting at Columbine High School, will be working with the WCSD to help alter and improve the culture in schools, empowering students to speak up about suspicious behavior. Payne said Colorado and Nevada were now bonded in a shared experience that can positively affect schools.
“This is a club that nobody asks to be a part of, but it is something that we will be a part of for the rest of our lives,” Payne said. “Every time you hear of another incident, it kind of brings you back and it is important that as we recover, that we feel a sense of ownership and a sense of empowerment and understanding of what we can do to be part of the solution of creating a safer community and safer schools for our children.”