Portland High School seniors Madeline Pettingill, left, and Molly Bowden. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

By early Thursday, most students at Portland High School were talking about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and reignited the debate about whether anything will be done to stop such tragedies.

The same talks were happening at Baxter Academy, a Portland charter school. And at Yarmouth High School. And South Portland High School. And likely many other schools across the state.

“Everybody’s been talking about it,” said Portland senior Molly Bowden. “Of course you start to think: Could this happen here?”

Her friend and fellow senior, Madeline Pettingill, said news coverage of the latest shooting has been hard to watch, but she worried too about whether she has become desensitized.

“How many of these have there been anyway?” she said. “It seems like it’s hard to keep track.”

Students’ feelings about the Florida tragedy ranged from concern about the safety of their own school to worrying about whether any of their classmates might fit the profile of many school shooters – white male, angry, often suffering from some type of mental illness.

The one constant, though, was a feeling of normalcy. School shootings have become a normal part of students’ lives.

Anna Parker, Yarmouth High School senior Staff photo by Eric Russell

Anna Parker, a Yarmouth High School senior, was in middle school in 2012 when a gunman killed 26 people, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was the first time she can remember hearing about a school shooting, but now that even seems far away.

“Personally, and I think a lot of students would echo this, I feel shocked every time it happens – that it’s still happening – but I would say it’s become a normal part of our culture, unfortunately,” she said. “Now, you feel more frustration because it keeps happening, but no new policies come out of it. No change and no efforts for change.”

WHEN TRAGEDIES BECOME THE NORM

Parker Rollins, a junior at Yarmouth, agreed that shootings have become “normalized.”

“Every time it happens, I am sad, but it’s also like: ‘This has happened before, it’s not something new,'” he said. “But how many more shootings have to happen before something changes?”

For many years, the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado was the watershed tragedy, but in the last decade or so there have been many more. High school students today have lived through six of the 10 deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Columbine isn’t even on that list anymore and most high school student today weren’t alive then.

Baxter Academy juniors, from left, Connor Dupuy, Nick Quartararo and Colin Fischer Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Colin Fischer, Nick Quartararo and Connor Dupuy, three Baxter Academy juniors, said there had been a fair amount of discussion about the latest shooting at school Thursday morning, but mostly among students.

“I sort of wish we did talk more about it,” Quartararo said. “Teachers, I don’t think they know what to say.”

All three said they aren’t that concerned about a shooting at their school, but they also wondered whether security is adequate.

“We don’t even have a resource officer. There is nobody at our school who would be armed,” Fischer said. “If someone did come to the school to shoot, we’d be sitting ducks.”

A STRANGE DISCONNECT

Dupuy said it was strange thinking about a tragedy like this. On one hand, he said, many of the victims are just like him. On the other hand, it happened so far away and he didn’t know any of them.

“It’s a weird disconnect,” he said.

All agreed that they can’t help but think about classmates who might be prone to violent behavior.

“We’re teenagers, of course we think about that,” Quartararo said.

Fischer said he’s even reported suspicious behavior to school administrators.

“There was a kid who was joking around about shooting up the school,” he said. “I made sure I told someone.”

On Thursday, just one day after the Florida tragedy, a student at South Portland High School made threats on social media and was then arrested as he walked to school.

Bowden, the Portland High Senior, said: “You definitely start thinking about being nicer to people. “I mean you should always be nice, but still.”

FRUSTRATION OVER INACTION

Parker Rollins, Yamouth High School junior Staff photo by Eric Russell

Rollins, the Yarmouth junior, admitted he had fleeting feelings of fear Thursday.

“After I found out about this shooting, I was skeptical of everyone at my school. I was, like, ‘Could you possibly be someone who one day would do this?'” he said, before adding that he feels safe at his school.

Parker, his classmate, said she finds herself thinking about her surroundings more and those thoughts are heightened every time a new tragedy hits.

“If I’m in an airport or a concert or even one of our schoolwide assemblies, it does cross my mind: ‘What could go wrong here?'” she said. “That’s just become a normal part of my thoughts.”

High school students seem to have the same frustrations as adults when it comes to a response.

“There is always a huge push after something happens for more gun control,” Parker said. “But then give it a couple weeks, it dies down and then people start talking about mental illness. Ultimately, nothing happens.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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