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Commentary: Reflecting on the Perry Hall High shooting

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

12:11 PM EDT, September 12, 2012

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I typically try not to write about controversial or possibly upsetting topics in these columns simply because I feel like I do that enough in the other stories I write.

This time, however, what's been on my mind lately and what I actually want to talk about isn't the usual happy-go-lucky column.

The shooting at Perry Hall High School on the first day of school this year is an event that has seemed to resonate for a lot of people.

For me, it hit pretty close to home.

My husband, a long-term substitute teacher, typically teaches at PHHS. Last school year, I can't remember a single day he wasn't there teaching.

Yet, the assignment he was given for the first couple days of school this year at the high school was canceled and he spent the first two days at home, and for that I'm grateful.

I was in the newsroom that Monday and received an e-mail from the Baltimore County Police Department stating there was a shooting at the school.

I immediately forwarded it to Chris not knowing what to think and not knowing how he would react.

Perry Hall is his alma mater and he speaks of the school fondly. I've met a lot of the teachers there either at parties, happy hours or other events.

There's rarely a time where the two of us go out in the Perry Hall/White Marsh area and don't get stopped by students shouting, "Mr. Gallo!" And he loves it. He loves those kids.

We often talk about eventually moving to Perry Hall - where he grew up - so our kids can have those same experiences and go to a great school like PHHS.

And now, at that very school, a very sad, lonely and misguided kid felt that he had no other choice than to shoot his peers.

It boggles my mind.

When writing a story about school safety in response to the shooting, my colleague Bryna Zumer asked me if there was anything about the school or the neighborhood, such as bullying, that was different or that could contribute to something like this happening.

Like I told her, there really isn't. It's your typical middle class suburban neighborhood. It's like Bel Air or Abingdon or Fallston. There's not a whole lot of crime or violence. There are nice homes and farms.

I'm sure there is bullying - there is in every high school and, unfortunately, every school period. But other than that? There isn't anything.

This could have easily happened at any high school in Harford County.

Part of me wishes that there were something I could point to and say, "Yes, that's it. That's where everything went wrong and this is how we can prevent another incident in the future."

That makes things a lot less scary, a lot less sad.

But the fact is it was probably a lot of things that contributed to Robert Gladden Jr., only 15 years old, bringing a gun to school and opening fire on students.

Bullying, plus a rough childhood, plus grown ups not reaching out to a lonely kid doesn't always lead to a tragic event like at PHHS, and in no way should there ever be an excuse to do such a horrible thing, but in this case it did and the only person who will know the real reasons is Robert.

When the shooting at Columbine High School happened in 1999, I was going into high school in the fall. Needless to say, I was scared to death. If this is what happened in high school, I didn't want to go.

When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, I was in my senior year of college and it was still scary and still confusing.

Now that this has happened basically in my backyard, I'm scared for what this means for my non-existent kids who I hoped would go to PHHS. Even more, I'm scared for what it means for my husband.

I'm so glad he wasn't there that Monday, even though not being there killed him.

He wanted so badly to help out and comfort everyone and help the kids, and not doing so literally made him sick to his stomach.

But I'm glad he was safe at home. What if it was Chris on cafeteria duty and not Jesse Wasmer, the guidance counselor who students credit for stopping the shooter? (Wasmer, coincidently, also went to PHHS along with my sister-in-law.)

He went into school later that week and got to speak to some teachers and wore the school colors, blue and gold, Friday.

Chris doesn't know the shooter, but knows the kid who was shot, Daniel Borowy.

He watched Daniel sing karaoke last year where he, of course, performed a Lady Gaga song, and said people loved it and cheered him on.

He would wave back to Daniel in the hallway and said he was always cheerful and smiling. Basically, he's one of the good ones.

I don't know why these school shootings keep happening. I hate that they do.

School is supposed to be that one place where you don't have to worry about feeling safe.

I hate that these kids, and they really are kids, feel like this is the only way out or feel like it's the best solution to a problem that in the grand scheme of things isn't that bad and will get better.

I am thankful, however, for good people like Jesse Wasmer, kind-hearted students like Daniel, teachers who just want to help like my husband and schools like Perry Hall that can rally together and get through tough times.

You can do it, Gators. We're behind you.