On a chilly Tuesday morning, late in the fall of 1985, a student told his teacher he saw a kid walk by the classroom with a gun. English teacher Merle Drown, on hall duty at the time, checked the hallways and boys bathroom. Seeing nothing, he assumed the student had been wrong, that what they’d seen had been something as ordinary as a janitor with a broom. Then Drown heard muffled yelling in the stairwell, and an announcement came over the loudspeakers: “We are holding bells. Do not release your students.” It was 8:35 a.m. and classes had just begun.
Drown, who was on the third floor, looked down the stairwell. Armed police officers had taken positions below him. Maybe it wasn’t the janitor carrying a broom after all, he thought.
“Put the gun down!” shouted the police at someone Drown could not see. “Put the gun down!” The piercing repetition bore up the stairwell.
With master key in hand, Drown instinctively began locking all classroom doors. Within minutes, the 1,300 students of this New Hampshire school were gripped with fear and confusion, as rumors spread about what was going on. It was December 3, 1985, and long before the word was ever coined, the school was under lockdown.
It’s been more than 40 years since the first modern school shooting — a 1974 incident when a student brought guns and homemade bombs to his school, set off the fire alarm, and shot at emergency and custodial personnel responding to the alarm. Despite countless studies conducted on the phenomenon, terms like “school shooting” and “school shooter” still have no unanimous definitions. The Tuesday morning that 16-year-old Louis Cartier brought a shotgun to Concord High School was an early example of something we now see as a pattern: the distraught teenage boy from a placid town of middle-class white people, roaming the hallways and rattling locked doors, gun in hand. As the era of school shootings continues today, his footsteps echo still.