There was a fight at Timberview High School on Wednesday, October 6. That morning, a conflict broke out among some students, and it escalated sharply when one of those students pulled out a gun and opened fire in his classroom. Timothy George Simpkins shot three people — two students and one teacher. All three were initially hospitalized. One of the students suffered minor abrasions where the bullet grazed her. She was released from the hospital within a day. The teacher was in good condition by Thursday, while the other student remained in critical condition. One additional student was injured during the incident but did not require hospitalization.
The rest of the students at the school entered lockdown when the shots were heard. Some of them texted their families in fear. They used the furniture within their classrooms, such as desks and bookcases, to make improvised barricades against potential armed intruders. Parents gathered at a pick-up location around five miles away from the school building. Once the all-clear was issued, the students were loaded onto buses and reunited with their parents.
Simpkins, meanwhile, fled the scene quickly after the incident. He communicated with his attorney, and then turned himself in within a few hours. He was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Since then, he has been released from custody after posting his $75,000 bond.
Carol Harrison Lafayette spoke on behalf of Simpkins’ family the night of the shooting. “The decision he made, taking the gun, we’re not justifying that. That was not right. But he was trying to protect himself,” she told reporters. Simpkins’ family indicated that he was bullied at the school and had even been robbed twice. As Lafayette herself said, that’s not a justification for these acts of violence; it doesn’t excuse what Simpkins did. But hearing about his troubles and experiences is an invitation to sonder. Learning about his personal experience reminds us that even the perpetrators of violence are human beings, with all the inherent dignity that comes with that humanity. Guilt does not negate personhood.
Unfortunately, Simpkins is not the only person to shoot a gun at a school this year. In 2021, there have been 106 documented incidents of school shootings. 22 people have died in these instances, and 57 were physically injured. Countless more were affected in less visible ways, such as the development of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those incidents, at least 30 of them happened in the first month and a half of this academic year (August 1st to September 15th). Everytown for Gun Safety has been tracking school shootings since 2013, and this is the most violent “back to school season” they’ve ever documented. Similarly, from March 2021 to June 2021, there were 14 school shootings. That’s the highest number during that date range in any year since 1999.
Kathy Martinez-Prather of the Texas School Safety Center said that “the challenge is how to manage [various threats against campuses made on social media] right now, amid all the other anxieties that staff and students are dealing with right now because of COVID.” The pandemic has caused extensive disruption, and that’s affected everyone’s mental health, including students. The isolation of quarantine, the stress of managing one’s own health, the worry about the health of others, the grief of loss, and the uncertainty of the whole situation — it is all incredibly taxing. Many students have now returned to in-person classes, but there are still lots of questions and uncertainties surrounding things like mask and vaccination requirements. Students may also switch to remote learning suddenly if someone in their class tests positive for COVID. All of these variables can cause feelings of stress and anxiety in students, a population that already experiences high levels of chronic stress. Without proper support, students may struggle to cope with all of these additional stressors, and “those are the things that could cause an uptick [of gun violence in schools],” said Martinez-Prather.
Our schools are meant to educate our children, but kids can’t learn as well when they don’t feel safe. “Children exposed to violence, crime, and abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol; suffer from depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder; fail or have difficulties in school; and engage in criminal activity,” Everytown highlights on their website. School shootings are considered rare, and they only make up a small portion of the gun violence that afflicts children every year in this country, but that doesn’t negate the very real impact of gun violence in educational settings. Each act of violence has a ripple effect. It physically hurts the people at the scene, and it emotionally hurts so many more people who surround this epicenter of trauma. Our children and our communities deserve effective solutions, implemented in a timely manner, to reduce the risk of such devastation happening again.