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Stateside Podcast: When the shooter is a child

School Shooting Oxford, Michigan
Jake May/AP
The Flint Journal
A bouquet of roses sits on a sign outside of Oxford High School on the day after the school shooting in Oxford, Mich. Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at the school, killing several students and wounding multiple other people, including a teacher. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

On Tuesday morning, students at Oxford High School had their world turned upside down in a matter of minutes. Two days later, it is still hard to know where to begin with the aftermath. 

"What really is most important at this time is making sure that the community knows, you know, that we are all in this together, to make space for children to process their feelings, to make space for parents and families to process their feelings," said Darienne Driver Hudson, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Hudson lost two young students to gun violence during her time as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. She said stressing education and prevention measures with parents and children is essential to keeping students safe.

“I always err on the side of facts first, making sure they understand the harm and reality that is out there and being prepared and being able, knowing what to do when there is an emergency,” said Hudson. “It's more important for them to come home at night than to give some type of false assurance that this won't happen to them.”

The events at Oxford High follow an apparent pattern of violence within schools that has seemingly worsened since students have returned to in-person learning. Marc Zimmerman is the director of the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center and is among some experts who say that the pandemic could be partially responsible for an uptick in school violence.

“I think that the pandemic has created isolation, has created stress in families and in kids, and it's all just coming to a head when school reopened, mostly across the United States,” said Zimmerman, who is also a professor of public health, psychology, and education at the University of Michigan. “We're talking about lots of violence more broadly, not just firearm violence, but lots of incidents of bullying and fighting. And I think partly, you know, the youth did not have the chance to kind of practice social skills.”

As more information continues to emerge about the alleged shooter and his disciplinary record at school, the role of bullying and school violence may become a prominent talking point of this case. The event has also re-ignited an ongoing national conversation on gun safety in the home.

“The adults create the world that the kids live in and the fact that they have access to guns is our fault. And so what preoccupies me is what we can do as adults to create a place where kids can't get access to the guns that they shouldn't have access to,” Zimmerman said. I think the ideas are, what we can do to help kids... learn how to solve problems without being violent."

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Anna is a senior at Michigan State University studying journalism with a concentration in international reporting.
Erin Allen comes to Michigan Radio as a new producer for the station’s Stateside show. She is an experienced communicator driven by her curiosity about stories of people.