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“Am I next?”

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“Am I next?”

The picture shown depicts a gun being crammed into a beating heart

The picture shown depicts a gun being crammed into a beating heart

Artwork by Akhila Johny

The picture shown depicts a gun being crammed into a beating heart

Artwork by Akhila Johny

Artwork by Akhila Johny

The picture shown depicts a gun being crammed into a beating heart

By Sravya Gadepalli, Oak Park High School

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“Am I next?”

I remember asking my parents this on December 14, 2012. My first exposure to the tragedy occurred as I listened to back to back clips of children crying within the walls of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Twelve years old at the time, I cried. I cried for what seemed like a lifetime for the lives lost, and I cried for my inability to push for change. A flood of tears filled my existence and for the next seven years would continue to do so intermittently.

I did not really know what the next several years would have in store for me, yet as time went on more and more acts of gun violence were committed and more and more people lost their lives.

Then on Nov. 7, 2018 tragedy hit a little bit too close to home: Only several miles away from our school and home. Borderline Bar & Grill was figuratively just next door for a lot of us.

I went to bed early that Wednesday night for what seemed like the first time in forever, and I awoke the next morning to a text message from my friend saying, “Apparently there was a shooting in Thousand Oaks.”

People from all over the country were reaching out to me, and kept asking if I knew anybody who was involved. It was surreal.

For the first time since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, six years later, I cried nonsensically.

Those around me kept saying five resounding words: “That could have been us.” Feeling as though nothing around me could be fixed, I felt pretty helpless.

The following morning, I received word of the blood drive at La Reina High School. I dropped my responsibilities for the day, I left AP Gov and sped to La Reina, in hopes that I could help those in need. Once I got there, I was stunned.

The line to donate blood wrapped around the block from the entrance of La Reina. Parking was scarce. The community was one.

I left the blood drive feeling fulfilled; I had helped my community and I did exactly what my 12-year-old self would have wanted me to do in 2012.

I drove home, and I heard the same vocal clip over and over again on KNX 1070: “Son, I love you so much … Oh my God; this is so hard.” Jason Coffman’s voice, father of Cody Coffman, mourned on the radio. His words filled my ears and his son Cody Coffman filled my thoughts. He was a mere five years older than I am, and in all honesty, my heart felt heavy that evening as the fires broke out. I had not had time to recover.

My friends were fleeing their homes, while I attempted to flee the questions: “Am I next? Are we next?”

I knew that there was no way that I could answer that question. The students at Columbine did not know, the children at Sandy Hook did not know, the students at Parkland did not know, the people at Borderline did not know.

None of us know how to prevent these tragedies, especially on an individual level, but we do know what to do afterward.

We come together. We try to be there for each other. We do what we can, to make sure that people feel heard. We become one, even if it is just for a little while. We know that we have each other to rely on.

This story was originally published on The Oak Park Talon on December 12, 2018.

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