It’s the end of innocence in American schools

San Bernardino shooting memorial

Visitors arrive to pay their respects at the site of a memorial to the victims of the recent mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

As a child, I learned drills for fires, earthquakes and lockdowns. We giggled as we got under our desks and chatted during the annual Great California Shakeout and whispered as we turned off the lights to ward off campus intruders. But somewhere along the way, it all changed.

Earthquakes and fires were no longer the bigger threats. School administrators spoke quietly about what to do in the event of a shooter coming to campus. Fences were erected. Gates locked.

With the San Bernardino attack, it finally hit me how real the threat is. I’d heard about mass shootings since I was a child -- Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine and Paris, but those were thousands of miles away from me. This was San Bernardino -- half an hour away. This was a place I’d been countless times. I have cousins who live there, I had just been there over Thanksgiving break. And then, a week later, tragedy struck.

On top of worrying about grades and college, students now have to worry about whether we’ll actually make it out of our school alive. And the fear doesn’t stop there. Because it could happen anywhere. In a restaurant, a plaza, a church, or a concert hall.

Yes, I know that no one is ever truly safe, but should you really be worried about being murdered when you’re out with your friends and family, enjoying a nice dinner or a casual stroll in the mall?  Why can’t we go anywhere without knowing that there’s a chance a gunman could end our lives that night? No human should be allowed to inflict that kind of fear and pain.

The country is divided and no one seems to have the right answer. While we fight over that, innocent victims are losing their lives every day. Parents are leaving the house in the morning and never coming back. Students are going to school and calling their parents in a panic because of a campus intruder.

I know I’m only 17 years old, and I’m not as seasoned or as wise as others, but I do know one thing: I don’t want to live in a world where I go to school fearing that today might be the day a shooter takes my life.

Rebecca Castillo, a student at Charter Oak High School, initially posted this story on High School Insider, an L.A. Times site where high school students report on the issues that matter to them and their communities. Her piece has been edited and condensed for clarity.