My name is Jennifer Hoffman and I'm living every parent's worst nightmare. On the morning of June 10th, 2014, I was getting all my children ready and off to school. I told my son Emilio goodbye, good luck on his Spanish test and that I loved him -- a typical school day morning for most moms. However, the typical part only lasted for about 20 min or so.
Sirens were so loud; friends and family were calling -- I flew to the high school. The sight was something from the movies or the news. Horrific and terrifying together. As one of the first parents there, I begged and pleaded with God to let my baby be ok.
From the moment I set foot on the high school campus they were speculations about what happened that day at school. I watched and waited as every student single filed out one by one from school.
My son did not walk out.
I searched for Emilio and friends; I asked police and detectives over and over. My son was not there with the rest of the kids. My heart pounded, my head spun and I felt this couldn't be real. Police found me and I was asked to step inside a small room inside the church. At this point, details of what happened inside the high school had not been released.
My husband was trying to get home from work from the other side of town. I knew that room meant something awful. The police informed me that my son was dead. He didn't survive. There had been a school shooting.
Complete shock and confusion took over. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to drive home, get my babies and forget this nightmare. A detective drove us home as I was unable to drive myself the two minutes home.
Our home was not our own. Law enforcement, FBI, news, and many others were there. We needed a moment alone. Just one moment for alone with our family.
Police came and gave us as many details as they could. They asked me if I had ever heard the shooters name. I had not. At that point there wasn't much more they could tell me. Other than they did not believe Emilio was ever a target.
FBI was next; we had to release a statement. Can you even imagine trying to give a public statement after just being told your 14-year-old son was killed? It had to be done.
Crime victims unit stood in line. They were there to tell us about the resources they were able to offer. I had more people in and out of my home than I ever imagined. I still can't recall those days very well. I was completely numb and in shock.
I needed to see my son. June 10th was a Tuesday and we didn't get to see Emilio until Friday. Walking into the funeral home I was terrified. How in the world am I here? Why am I here? How did this become my reality? I stayed at Emilio's viewing the entire two days. I didn't want to leave him there by himself. Not like that.
We were overwhelming blessed to have support from all over. We somehow survived the funeral and services.
After we waited for more details, a long time passed only to be told there was no rhyme or reason to our son's death. He was not a target. The shooter had a much bigger plan that day.
I asked how he got the guns. I asked, why didn't anyone notice the case and bag he carried on the bus was not his norm? Why didn't the teachers notice this boy who was not in band slip by them all of them with a guitar case? The resounding response I received was "sorry."
Well, sorry is not good enough. My son is dead. My sweet, talented boy with his whole life ahead of him is gone. How do these shootings continue to happen? It's been 16 years since the first school shooting at Columbine High School and nothing has changed.
There's a lot of talk about gun rights when it comes to school shootings. I and others see the bigger issue here as mental health. Mental health, especially, youth mental health is a problem we cannot ignore.
Since Emilio's death, I have changed. My family has changed. Broken hearted beyond belief. You never get over the loss of your child. Angry doesn't even describe my feelings. I could spit nails. I hate our pain. I hate our loss. I hate our new normal. It is not fair.
I decided early on that I had to find a way to let my son live on. I had to make a change for him -- for us. I knew deep in my heart that anger was not what was going to get us through this.
I'm here to urge action amongst parents, communities, teachers, doctors and anyone that spends time with our children. Start talking about mental health with your kids. Learn the signs and know how to access resources. Let's work together to take the stigma out of mental health needs and communicate with our kids. Let them know, we are here and it's ok to ask for help. Please, lock up your guns safely, for the safety of your family and others. Let's encourage our children to get involved in the community to practice kindness and compassion. It matters! We all matter.
Emilio, my sweet kindhearted boy whose life was cut short by senseless tragedy, mattered. Your kids matter too. Please help support change. Be the change. Make the change. This senselessness has struck everywhere. It can happen to you. Tragedy strikes regardless of your age, race, background, or location.
Would sorry be enough for you if it was your child?
For more information on Emilio Inc., visit www.emilioinc.org
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