Students in the halls of McKinney North High School were placed on lockdown at about 11 a.m. Friday after a student died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an empty classroom. Two days later, in a parking lot next to the school’s sports building, hundreds gathered to sort out their feelings during the aftermath of the suicide.
Three McKinney North students took the stage to speak to their classmates as organizers of the candlelit vigil Sunday evening. Victoria Wagner, Abigail Fuller and Chibuike Odo planned the gathering and let others know via social media and word of mouth.
They estimated that more than 400 fellow students and faculty members of McKinney North, as well as parents, city representatives and other community members, attended the event. A flyer shared via social media had a message to attend wearing white to “signify friendship and thankfulness” as the group united to “light the world with kindness.”
“I want to thank you all for joining us on spreading kindness tonight. I believe that kindness given by strangers is the most selfless act that someone can give,” said Wagner, a senior and student council member at McKinney North. “The students here at North were shown that selfless kindness as our administrators, teachers, staff, first responders and community as a whole kept us safe this Friday. I’d like to thank you. Your kindness will never be forgotten.”
Behind Wagner and all else who spoke that night, the sun set over the gathering with the sky awash in red, yellow and orange. The student who took his life in the halls of their school had not been identified Sunday.
“Being here means you’re making a commitment to support each other. Be kind to one another, and be thankful in all that you do,” said McKinney North junior and student council member Abigail Fuller. “Maybe you didn’t know of that commitment when you decided to come here tonight, but just the fact that you wanted to come means you wanted a change. And tonight, we are that change.”
The event was comparable to those planned in response recent school-shooting events around the nation. A gunman at killed 17 people on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Survivors of the event took to the streets, organizing a massive political demonstration called the March for Our Lives. Thousands of people marched against gun violence March 24 in Washington and other cities nationwide.
Most of those who attended the McKinney North vigil did not carry signs calling for political action or depicting caricatures of American political figures. In fact, there weren’t many signs in the crowd at all.
The message from student speakers was simply thanks — specifically to first responders — that they still had their lives. Many attended also to ease feelings of uncertainty after Friday’s suicide before returning to school Monday.
“On Friday, I was so consumed with negativity, as I’m sure many of you were, too. I somehow felt guilty about what happened, as if another smile or a hello could have changed this course of events,” Fuller told the crowd. “I felt like I should have seen what was going on and known somehow. And after everything, I felt like it was wrong to be happy.”
In the wake of large-scale media reports of school shootings and gun violence in America, it appeared as though many of McKinney North’s students, including the seniors who will graduate Friday, were there to reflect on what it meant to still be alive in the midst of a death by shooting in a school.
“I’ve always thought of McKinney North as a safe space. It’s somewhere I made friends that I share my fears with one second and laugh at another. It’s somewhere I have countless teachers that I look to, not just as educators and mentors, but as friends. And for many of us, it will be hard to see these classrooms in the same way again,” Fuller said. “But the bottom line is this isn’t a problem with McKinney North — this is a problem with our society. We’re changing that tonight."
During the school’s lockdown on Friday, 15-year-old McKinney North freshman Samantha Hurtado said, “there was a panic, definitely,” when her biology teacher turned out the lights and shut the blinds while she and her classmates tried to hide in the back of the classroom. Just before the voice calling for lockdown hit the intercom, Hurtado said, she was just sitting in class with her headphones on, listening to music because she had finished her classwork for the day.
“Nobody knew what was going on,” she said. “Some people thought it was a drill, but it wasn’t.”
McKinney Mayor George Fuller said in an interview at Sunday’s vigil that the city is offering its help and cooperation to McKinney ISD, a school district independent of the city.
“This was a case of a young man, a young boy, that for whatever reason decided he was going to take his own life, and he decided to do it here in the school. It’s just tragic and so unnecessary,” George Fuller said. “Safety is a discussion that has had first and foremost priority with the superintendent, Rick McDaniel.”
Safety is a concern for parents in the area, too. Shandricka Jackson has six children, three are students in McKinney ISD, and her daughter is an employee of the district who works as a teacher’s aide at McKinney North.
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“I think it’s very sad in our society that we’re at the point that we’re at now,” Jackson said. “It was a little too close for home. We’ve seen it across the world, but with it being at the school that my daughter works at, and to get that text [that says], ‘Mom, we’re on lockdown,’ — just imagine how the students in the school and parents and how they must have felt.”
Jackson said she wants to see something change after the suicide at McKinney North.
“We’ve got to put a stop to this,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to find a way to band together and love one each other and pray for change.”
For free and confidential support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org for prevention and crisis resources.