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Tragedy Remembered

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By Chris Cannon

Freedom was finally mine.
It was the day that I’d gotten my first driver’s license, and nothing could slow me down.
My only problem?
Mom had forced me back to my fourth-period class.
I glazed over, as the light flickered twice over the front of the room — a welcome distraction from the periodic table and formulas of H2-whatever.
It usually blinked about every 16 seconds — I know. I counted to keep my mind off of the droning sounds of chemistry.
Little did I know, one of my most hated classes of my high school career would be one I will never forget.
That day, near 2:30 p.m., it wasn’t the light that took my mind off those formulas.
Instead, it was an announcement that the school had been put on lockdown.
“Somebody else busted for drugs,” I remember thinking.
Our teacher brushed it off, continuing to chug along with the day’s assignment.
Not long afterward, the heavy-laden voice of Gary Seale, our principal, came across the intercom.
“The school is in lock down,” he said, pausing between nearly every word to catch his breath. “No one is to leave their room, and teachers, lock your doors.”
That was an important announcement, I thought, as the only explanation for his shortness of breath being that he’d ran the entire length of the school to announce it.
I’ll admit it — I kind of had a laugh inside at the thought of him running.
We moved to the back of the room away from the hallway entrance, as our teacher continued to dwell on the numerous formulas.
Phones buzzed in pockets and purses, as students twisted nervously in their seats. It was a known rule not to take your phone out in chemistry. If it was seen, it was gone.
Suddenly, sirens burst through the silence as the cops poured into the schoolyard.
One student pulled out his phone, telling us it was something major.
“I think there’s been an accident,” he said.
The teacher ran to the front of the room to turn on the television to find the shocks of our life.
When the TV flickered, it wasn’t California, Colorado or Connecticut.
Instead, it was Campbell County High School that showed on the screen between the wavy lines of the old television.
“What is going on?” I remember thinking, as worry struck us all.
“SCHOOL SHOOTING,” it read across the bottom of the screen, as the scattered reporters gave the few details they had.
The silence in that room, as the TV was muted, is something that can only be felt.
None of us knew what to say, and even if we did, we were in so much shock it wouldn’t have been possible.
We all pulled close in the back of the room and began to pray. Reports came of a death — who, we didn’t know.
Cell lines were blocked — no calls in and no calls out. Information was bits and pieces of shock for us all.
“How can this happen here? This is my school, and this only happens in other places,” I thought to myself, as I looked out the side door to watch LIFESTAR fly over campus.
It wasn’t the end, however.
Within the next week, I stood on the side of the four-lane through Campbell County, as I watched the hearse drove slowly.
The county was lined with students, teachers and community members who all gathered to remember Ken Bruce. He’d been my principal in third, fourth and fifth grades. When I got to the high school, he was already there with his patented, “There’s no sense jumping over rat turds,” as encouragement to forget the small things.
Seale ran through my mind as I watched the crowds gather on the street — he was in his fifth year as my principal, as he’d followed me from middle school to high school. What was going to happen?
Jim Pierce was also injured. He was the athletic director that always offered a smile. Everyday after school, it was, “Get off that basketball court with your boots on!”
I was just trying to fit in with all my basketball friends.
Little did I know, nearly nine years later, I’d be sitting in the courtroom as a journalist covering the same incident I’d been a part of so many years ago at Campbell County High School.
It’s been reported that the alleged shooter, Kenneth Bartley, said on his way to the patrol cars, “For 10 seconds, I’ve ruined the rest of my life.”
On that day, Nov. 8, 2005, a lot more was ruined.
It’s a day that will forever live on in my mind, as well as the minds of nearly 1,200 other students inside that school.
On that day, a little of my freedom was taken.

Chris Cannon is the sports editor at the LaFollette Press. Contact him at
ccannon@lafollettepress.com.