Here is the complete text of Judy Weldon’s address at the Cleveland School 35th Anniversary Commemoration:
35th Anniversary Commemoration of Cleveland School Shooting January 17, 1989
By Judy Weldon
Good evening, everyone! I am happy that you were able to attend and I thank you all.
I am Judy Weldon and I was a second-grade teacher on Jan. 17th, 1989, the day a gunman came onto our campus and used an AR-15 type weapon to fire on innocent children during recess. Five children died, and 30 others and a teacher were wounded. There were approximately 400 students on the playground at the time. The gunman killed himself on the porch of a portable classroom.
My focus this evening is to help each of you understand the terrible impact of gun violence and how it ripples out from the person who is wounded or who has died to the greater community.
While I am not an expert in the effects of trauma, I can share this experience with you and how I imagine other similar events may have impacted those survivors.
During and after the shooting, children ran for shelter, into classrooms, into hallways, behind playground equipment, and into the cafeteria. Most of the wounded made it to the hallways where teachers and aides used their hands as tourniquets. They grabbed diapers from the kindergarten to staunch the flow of blood. They wrapped their arms around the frightened, comforted the wounded, and held those who were dying.
Oeun Lim, a second-grader, died just outside the hall door as Mrs. Lea held her. Ram Chun, a first-grader died in the arms of her teacher, Mrs. Haas. Rathanar Or, a third-grader, died comforted by his teacher, Mr. Graham. Sokhim An and Thuy Tran, both first-graders died outside the classroom doors. No one was there to hold them as they made their journey to heaven.
The primary children were at recess while the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders were in their classes. Some of them had a frightening experience of their own. Many of these students could hear the gunfire and some could see the horror unfold from their classroom windows. The class of deaf students felt the vibration of the gun as he fired from the little porch of their portable. With their teacher, they prayed he would not see them through the windows.
Let’s move away from the Cleveland playground and fast forward to today, 35 years later. I’d like you to put yourselves in the shoes of the children at Cleveland, the people of the concert in Las Vegas, and the people of so many other places that have been shattered by gunfire. Now close your eyes, if you will. Now imagine a bullet ripping through their bodies, taking with it much of what keeps them alive.
What happens now? If you were in those shoes, you’ll probably deal with pain and sorrow, you may deal with a fear of loud noises, crowded spaces, or a helicopter hovering overhead. A ripple effect. Your family members and friends feel your pain and try to help you recover. A bigger ripple. Your neighbors and the entire community will never know the wonderfulness of the person who was lost. Many ripples later…..
If you think that the shooting was a long time ago and it’s over and done with, you’d be wrong. At least three of our students (in their forties now) cannot work, doing the jobs of their choice. They carry shrapnel in their backs which causes too much pain to do a physical job, the one they chose. Some who were on campus that day live with stress and fear, even after so many years. There are people in Stockton who remember where they were when they heard the sirens and the helicopters. We can’t begin to tell you of the many complex layers of the aftereffects of an event like this. There are too many Americans who live with this trauma on one level or another.
Imagine a world where entering movie theaters doesn’t require us to scout for exits or act as shields for our children. For some of us that world existed not long ago, but many of our children will never know that freedom unless we act now. What steps must we, as a society, collectively take to transform this culture and ensure a safer and more secure environment for everyone Let’s unite for change and actively work towards a future where such concerns are no longer a part of our shared experience.
On a personal note…..there are days when I ask myself, “Judy, why are you spending so much time trying to reduce gun violence?” “You know your efforts are fruitless, you know too many people own guns, you know legislation will never be enough!”
Because it is morally right, because it is the humane thing to do. Because it is who I am.
And then my friends helped me with a quote by Edward Everett Hale:
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”