The ways in which schools and students think about the possibility of mass violence on campus changed a lot between the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School and the 2018 one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Dave Cullen’s last book, 2009’s acclaimed nonfiction work Columbine, chronicled the public and private lives of high-school students who survived the 1999 Columbine massacre as they grappled with the question of why this unthinkable horror had happened at their school. Cullen’s newest book, Parkland—about the activism of the survivors of the February 14, 2018, attack that killed 17 students in Parkland, Florida—follows a group of students determined to not let the world forget that of course this horror had happened at their school. Why wouldn’t it have? It was happening everywhere else. These students, unlike those who survived the tragedy at Columbine, grew up under the ever-looming threat of school gun violence, and then it materialized. Still, the Parkland kids’ back-to-school experience looked a lot like the Columbine kids’. They missed their dead classmates; they feared more violence in their classrooms; they had to fight through post-traumatic–stress symptoms to get to calculus on time.
There’s a developing set of protocols for how to handle the process of reintroducing kids to school after a shooting takes place on campus. As I reported last year, there are now “best practices” for how to reopen a school after a shooting, and that’s partly because many administrators at schools where a mass shooting has taken place call the administrators of the school that had the last mass shooting to ask for advice on how to ease kids back into the school setting. It’s one thing to hear about post-shooting protocols from experts, though, and quite another to see them in action through students’ eyes. Parkland, reported over the course of the 10 months after the shooting, mainly focuses on the gun-reform movement that took shape after the Douglas shooting, but it also paints a vivid portrait of what going back to school after a shooting is really like for students.