I have two distinct memories from that day. The first was my parents pacing up and down our living room scrutinizing the news as staggering news reports came in and the rain poured down. The second was the following day when I learned what it meant for a flag to be lowered to half-mast.
That day, July 22, 2011, remains the deadliest act of terrorism on children anywhere in the world. I was nine and in Norway at the time, just tens of miles from the carnage on the island of Utoya, a youth summer camp with 650 children in attendance. At least 80 were killed, some as young as 16, when one armed and angry man went on a shooting spree, according to the New York Times.
Many more were injured, and many still carry the scars. Eight years later, I am now cognizant of how close I actually was to the massacre not only because of my physical proximity to it but now as a high school student, I’m the age of the victims.
This is not the first or last terrorism attack that has targeted children, but it became my introduction to one of the most prominent threats to safety in the 21st century: an epoch for me of how truly messed up the world can be. I was not far off. Just as duck and cover drills were created to avoid bomb scares, todays lockdown drills are a constant reminder of a new threat.
A new form of terrorism has quickly found its place in our lives after the 1999 Columbine High School attack. As of 2018, Washington Post Analysis detailed that since Columbine, over 187,000 American students have “experienced a shooting on campus during school hours.”
However, there are few statistics that show the indirect effects shootings have on children. The growing threat of terrorism creates a heightened sense of fear in many students’ minds.
A 2018 analysis conducted by Pew Research found that a majority of students and parents in America are living in fear of a repeat of one of the many recent shootings. For example, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and Sandy Hook in 2013 are all still fresh in our minds.
This threat will define our generation’s universal experience — the fear of horrific massacres that can lie in day to day activities: going to a concert, a bar or even taking your child to school.
Our generation’s struggle with terrorism has been redefined. The dissociation between predator and prey has left everyone a target. Victims are unrelated, shooters act alone and targets are innocent. Modern day terrorism offers less assurance of safety than ever before.
In a New Yorker article, Bruce Hoffman, the author of “Inside Terrorism” and director of security studies at Georgetown University discussed how modern terrorism differs from centuries of violence before.
“They kept their terrorism within boundaries related to their cause,” he said to the New Yorker. “Today it’s different. It’s less predictable, less coherent and less cohesive. It leaves the impression of serendipity.”
I am left thinking, as I walk to class, where would I run if a van came tearing down the street? How could I hide if a person appeared with a semi automatic weapon and started picking people off? Who would I call as I hide in a locked bathroom stall when this lockdown was not a drill? What would you do?