There are always certain days where you remember exactly where you were.
Wednesday 13th March 1996 is one of them.
That afternoon at school we became aware of teachers coming in and out of classrooms whispering to each other. As children you are always aware of when you are deliberately being kept out of the loop “for your own benefit”.
I was a Primary 7 pupil, in my final year of primary school. The bell rang and we all left school. As always I went out of the front entrance, was guided across the road by Jean the Lollipop Lady, and ran down the hill and up the steps, around the garden to the back door of my Nana & Grandad’s house. I walked in through the kitchen and my Nana was on the phone looking worried “Oh she’s home! She’s just walked in!” she exclaimed. I’m guessing she was on the phone to my mother at work. I didn’t understand the panic and relief in her voice – school finished at 3.15 p.m. and it was 3.20 p.m. Why would they be so worried or concerned?
And then she told me.
There had been a shooting at Dunblane Primary School.
I knew Dunblane. My Dad’s friend lived there, and he had two daughters that I knew. One was the same age as me. We had play dates and attended each other’s birthday parties. I just remember saying to my Nana my friend’s name in loud panic. Was my friend one of the kids who had been shot? I don’t think at that time the media knew the age of the children who had been murdered in the school gym that day. I found out later my friend had left the school to attend a private school, but her sister had been in the school that day.
That weekend a picture of my friend was on the cover of a tabloid newspaper, laying down a bouquet of flowers outside her old primary school with a trembling lip and eyes full of tears.
Over coming days we found out more about the shooter and within weeks the doors of primary schools and nursery schools became locked down. No longer would we ever be able to simply walk in the front entrance of a Scottish Primary School. Entry phone systems and codes to get into gym halls became the new norm. It was a whole new world. It became clear that the man (I will always remember his name, but I don’t want to give him the benefit of fame) intended on doing much more harm that day. He had ammunition to kill all 700 children in that school with the guns he carried. I remember one of the PE teachers who was shot by him saying how shocking it was that everything he had done until pulling the trigger in that gym hall had been legal.
That Christmas we all heard Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Many of the siblings of the children who had been murdered or injured in the gym that day recording the song with the additional chorus “Throw these guns away, they’ve caused the world too much pain“at Abbey Road to raise money for charities. I remember signing the Snowdrop Campaign petition to ban private handgun ownership in the UK.
A year later, while the Dunblane families and many others behind them fought parliament to change gun laws, I came home from school to my Nana’s house to see another school shooting on the telly. This time in the USA at school called Columbine. Sadly, the families there didn’t do the same as the Dunblane families. There were gun clubs in the UK who kicked off about the potential ban on private gun ownership.The gun enthusiasts said it would make no difference. But the government, for once, was united.
Well. There’s never been a school shooting in the UK since. I’ve lost count of how many there have been in USA since Columbine.
It’s been 20 years. 19 years since I put a candle in my bedroom window to remember 17 people – one adult, sixteen children – who were murdered in a suburban middle class town in central Scotland.
I also always remember the children and staff who were injured,
and all the friends and family whose lives were forever changed that morning.
We won’t forget the bairns of Dunblane.