- During the first three months of 2023, over 100 mass shootings occurred in the U.S.
- Current research reports that 88% of Americans are anxious about gun violence.
- Jill Lemond, who worked at Oxford High School during the 2021 mass shooting, is on a mission to prevent school violence.
The mass shootings that occurred this year at The Covenant School in Nashville and Michigan State University in Lansing, all struck Jill Lemond hard.
“It’s pervasive and I feel extremely called to serve and help as many school leaders as I can,” Lemond told Healthline.
On November 30, 2021, she was the superintendent of student services at Oxford High School in Detroit when four students were murdered and seven other people injured during a mass shooting executed by a student.
“Several of our students who went through the Oxford shooting were then evacuated and re-traumatized at Michigan State,” Lemond said.
At the time of the Oxford shooting, she was in charge of COVID-19 safety protocols, student enrollment, marketing, and more.
When word spread about the possible shooting, Lemond and her colleagues who worked in the administrative building entered the school while it was still on lockdown. Some entered the south doors and Lemond and others entered the north doors.
“We didn’t know what was going on. [We] didn’t know if the shooter had been shot or not,” Lemond said. “[We went] from not knowing if this was a dangerous incident to opening the door and a few of my colleagues walked right into a war zone carnage.”
After the incident, Oxford school district changed its organizational structure and Lemond was assigned assistant superintendent of safety and school operations, which put her in charge of all security for the district.
“Tim Throne, the superintendent had done so much throughout his tenure at Oxford to get us in a good position for such an incident. We were so very well prepared for this. The ATF and FBI came to look at the events and review the incident, and all of them overwhelmingly gave us glowing reviews about our response,” she said.
The school initiated ALICE, an active shooter protocol. Additionally, the school had 187 cameras in place throughout the building which caught the incident and response.
“I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to watch the videos. The shooting did not stop because the shooter ran out of ammunition or because he was caught quickly (though he was). He had plenty of time to do more damage,” said Lemond. “[He] stopped shooting because he ran out of people to shoot. Not only our teachers, but more importantly, our students knew what to do that day and knew how to keep themselves safe.”
Still, the loss of life and injuries endured demanded more safety protocols and help from experts to implement them, a challenge Lemond took on.
“I have an English degree and a master’s in business and I was in charge of handling security — that’s very common in schools, that we don’t have nearly the professional background to do everything,” she said.
In addition to working with local police, she also worked with companies to find safety solutions for the school.
“We’re in the midst of it and we’re hours after learning that four children have died on our campus and it seems like every snake oil salesman in the security industry found my voicemail, my email, my phone number to try to sell me the newest lock or the best shiniest technology for school and it was so tone deaf to the trauma that our team was going through,” said Lemond.
However, she said a few helpful companies offered free assistance, including Evolv Technologies, which provided the school with three free screen towers that use weapons technology and artificial intelligence to detect dangerous items when people walk through them.
She connected with the company and its mission so much that she now works for them.
“What called me to Evolv was prevention and focusing all my energy on preventing the incident from occurring in the first place. Working here has been the most powerful and impactful thing I’ve done for my healing,” she said.
As a mother of four elementary-aged children and a wife to a police detective, she said living through the shooting “completely rocked my sense of safety and my family’s sense of safety and I wanted to do something that would have a greater impact nationally on the huge problem we have of school violence.”
In her role, she visits school districts and evaluates their emergency and safety plans, and offers Evolv as part of the solution. She also connects with teachers and administrators who have also experienced gun violence.
“[I’ve] been able to talk to a lot of school leaders who are post-incidents and let them know there is a network of those of us who have been through it,” said Lemond. “The Parkland principal personally reached out to me after the shooting and let me know she would help. It’s sad that there are these groups of people who have been through this very specific, very horrible experience.”
Prior to the Oxford shooting, Lemond said she had misgivings about mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I’ve never felt closer to non-family members. We were working together the longest hours into the night trying to grapple with trauma and stress but also trying to do what was right for our community,” said Lemond.
“Probably the biggest thing that happened from a therapy perspective was therapy dogs and we ended up creating our own therapy dog program modeling off another school district in Michigan. Several people donated and helped with the purchase of dogs,” she said.
She wasn’t able to focus on her own mental health until she was no longer working at Oxford and didn’t feel the weight of responsibility. Once she left, she sought out trauma therapy.
“The secrecy surrounding mental health exacerbates the problem in our society. Seeking mental health is an important part of people’s trauma journey,” Lemond said.
She also learned about the importance of talking to children about violence in an honest, age-appropriate way.
Because her children went to school in a different district, she tried to shield them from what happened at Oxford.
“They just knew I was very upset, they knew something bad happened to kids at school, they didn’t know what, but how stupid of me to not recognize that it would become global news,” she said. “They were hearing it from kids at school, they saw it when we were out at the supermarket on tabloids and I wish I had told them myself.”
According to research commissioned by Evolv, three out of four parents indicate that their child(ren) has some anxiety about school shootings and 54% report their child(ren)’s anxiety has increased since 2020.
“Especially our middle and high school students know that gun violence is an epidemic in this country and that school can be unsafe,” said Lemond.
She encourages talking to them and if they are anxious about school violence, sharing resources that are available at their school and in their community.
While it’s hard to talk to children about violence, Dr. Julie Kaplow, PhD, executive director of Trauma and Grief Center at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, said doing so is necessary.
“[This] silence can send the message that it’s not ok to talk about hard things and/or the child may not be able to handle it,” Kaplow told Healthline. “Instead, it is helpful to let the child guide the conversation to ensure that their own questions or concerns are being addressed.”
To start the conversation, Kaplow suggested using a phrase like: “I’m sure you heard about the shooting last night. What questions or worries do you have?”
Parents can then provide simple, straightforward answers that are appropriate for the child’s developmental level.
Reminding children that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to keep them safe and protected is important to stress, added Kaplow. She suggested reminding them about the difference between “kid worries” and “adult worries.”
“Kid worries can include, ‘How do I make sure I do well in school?’ ‘When am I going to do my homework?’ ‘Who should I invite to my birthday party?’ Too many children are being forced to take on adult worries related to safety and security, when it is the adults in their lives who should be bearing that burden,” she said.
In the school system, giving kids agency was the most effective tool after the Oxford shooting, said Lemond. She asked kids what would make them feel safer.
“Too frequently we have only the adults having that conversation,” she said.
A parent of a child at Oxford suggested naming student ambassadors to represent the students and allowing them to give anonymous feedback on what they’re afraid of and what makes them feel safer at school.
“If you asked kids who might shoot up a school, they could probably give a few names. They know who is struggling. It’s chilling,” said Lemond. “Let’s ask kids who needs help in this school and who we can wrap our arms around.”
She believes the best way to stop school shootings is by making all kids feel like they are part of the school.
Lemond said students trusting an adult in the building is an effective way to prevent an act of violence.
“Kids going to an adult and saying ‘I heard this, this felt funny, this person is acting differently’ or ‘I’m having feelings that I want to hurt myself or other people,’” said Lemond.
She also believes school staff need processes and ways to share information about students and their home life regarding criminal information about students and their parents, such as whether they have a gun in their home.
“We need to be able to have that information and share it with one another not to invade people’s privacy, but to protect our kids,” she said. “On both sides of the aisle, we can agree that kids shouldn’t have guns and kids shouldn’t have guns in school.”
Lemond has connected with legislators about the importance of adding and funding layers of security in schools around the country.
“Regulations or policies without funding support only further tax our educational leaders to do more with little,” she said.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans are anxious about gun violence and more than one-third believe it is likely they will encounter an active shooter in their lifetime, according to Evolv research.
He explained that secondary trauma is similar to PTSD because a person vicariously experiences the trauma that others have experienced by either listening to the person recounting the event or watching news clips and videos about it.
“The more inundated individuals are with certain types of trauma, either about an event (a school shooting) or other similar events, the more likely they will start to experience compassion fatigue,” he told Healthline.
When a person feels a lot of empathy about a tragic event, over time, Miller said they don’t have much left to give.
“Unfortunately, the more frequent the shootings, people who aren’t directly attached to the victims will only focus on the need for change and not the particular devastation that families are experiencing,” he said. “It’s not that they are not compassionate, but they’ve experienced it so often that it can just seem like another unfortunate situation.”
He noted that while many people think connecting with families who lost loved ones due to violence might help, he said it typically prolongs compassion fatigue.
“You can show support in many ways, but if you are experiencing secondary trauma or compassion fatigue it can be a hindrance to your personal well-being,” he said.
To protect kids from becoming numb to school violence, Kaplow suggested limiting their exposure to the news.
“[The] majority of stories are focused on gun violence and fatal shootings,” she said. “Parents [can] maintain an open dialogue with their children so they can explain what they may be seeing or hearing on the news and answer any questions they might have.”