School Shootings And Mental Health: My Personal Experience

Aug 9, 2019

My mom was at home when the gunfire started.

"It was so hard," my mom recalls. "It was so hard as a mom to be strong because all I wanted to do was scream."

That helplessness (from not knowing) how to provide comfort to my friends who had just lost their little girl was unimaginable. -Kim Pollard

I used to live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I was 9 years old when a shooter opened fire at a nearby elementary school, killing 20 children and six adult staff members. My school went into lockdown. I remember huddling in a dark corner of my classroom, waiting for teachers to tell us what was happening. But they never did. I didn't find out what happened until I got home.

My mom told me about the shooter and that one of our family friends lost their daughter. Her name was Charlotte Bacon. I cried and cried. I didn't understand. My mom says it doesn't take much to transport her back to that day.

"That helplessness (from not knowing) how to provide comfort to my friends who had just lost their little girl was unimaginable thing that happened," she recalls. "Time stopped and watching that hope fade to a realization that they'd never hold her again."

Charlotte Bacon and Laina Pollard play on the beach in 2012.
Credit Kim Pollard

That day, my mom hugged us and then sent us down to the basement to play Xbox. They didn't want us to see the news that was on the TV upstairs. My mom went over to Charlotte's house to meet up with her mom, JoAnn. So it was just me and my sister Laina. It was really hard – we'd never dealt with a death this close to us until then.

“It didn't register in my head because I think death is a very hard subject for kids, especially how young I was," my sister said.

Dealing With Death at a Young Age

We're seven years older now, but the feelings are still here. My sister and I have both struggled with mental health issues.

"I mean, I had depression, so, I guess that is a factor that went into it because I mean, I was young and it made me sad, and whenever I hear about all this other stuff, it makes me angry. And (it) definitely gives me some sort of anxiety or negative feelings," my sister said.

My sister and I went to counseling. We went through therapy, and it kind of helped, but I didn't go all the time. I got myself into a really dark place. And on November 13, 2017, at 7:45 a.m., it got a lot worse. I was in the school cafeteria with my friends. We were just talking, I don't know about what. And then Miss Brown, one of our school administrators, came in and started screaming at us. 

"This isn't fake, this is real. Lockdown! Lockdown!" I remember her saying.

Me and my friends ran into a closet. We were hiding behind a metal door next to all the snacks in the cafeteria kitchen. People were passing around pop tarts like it was fake, but my friend Naomi Aguado and I weren't sure. Was it a shooter?

Naomi Aguado gets interviewed by Emma Pollard in summer 2019.
Credit Allison Swaim

"My initial reaction was, I wanted to call my mom and dad to tell them that I loved them and that I would be okay," Naomi said.

We tried to call from the closet but none of our phones had any service. We were holding up our phones trying to get a signal.

"I was just scared about what was going to actually happen, because everything that's been going on and what I've heard in the news and all that," she added.

Fortunately, the lockdown ended up just being a scare. A teacher had reported a gunshot coming from the woods, thinking it was a gunman firing at our school. It was instead a hunter who was too close to our school.

Getting Help With Therapy

I had a lot of anxiety after that day. My entire sophomore year, I was a nervous wreck. My mom wanted me to go to therapy.  But I was stubborn and I wanted to go against my mom.  I knew that it might be good for me, but I didn't know how to open up.

Then, that spring, the Parkland shooting happened. They were all my age. It really hit me: it can happen anywhere. Something switched in me. It made me realize that my life could be taken away from me at any moment, so I need to live my life to the fullest instead of being sad and depressed.

So junior year I really changed. I cut all my hair off and got bangs. My classmates hardly recognized me. I got into journalism, started working for the school paper, and I talked to more people. Those interactions helped me figure out how to open up. I finally started going to therapy. I really like my therapist - she's helped me a lot.

I'm excited for my senior year. I'm going to be the online editor of the school paper. I have a really great life and I'm grateful for it. I feel lucky to be alive.