Esther Tyson, Contributor
A volley of shots rang out on Tuesday, June 26, 2007, shattering the calm atmosphere at Ardenne High School at 10 Ardenne Road. Sitting in my office in a meeting, I was in disbelief that this was really happening until I saw students running and heard them shouting and screaming.
Running outside, I was greeted with a scene of pandemonium. Students were running helter-skelter across the compound, some crying and some looking dazed.
Then the confusion began again as another shot rang out from within the school - in the staff room. Students, adults were running from the staffroom now to the front of the school. Chaos raged! I called the police at Half-Way Tree to get help.
On the ground was a man of unsound mind, babbling, "I am Cinderella with a long, brown hair, there is my golden sister"; a man dishevelled, without shoes, shirt unbuttoned, blood splattered on his hand, his feet.
Students gathered around him, no one helping him because the police said no one could, everyone speaking in groups. Past students from abroad back home to Jamaica land we love and their old school are in shock, faces registering disbelief. Past students on their cellphones, calling overseas, sending back the details of what, unbelievably, had transpired before their very eyes; still no one to help to get the wounded man to the hospital.
The police arrive from Half-Way Tree. Children are crowding, teachers whispering, past students commiserating, board members gathering. The talk is: "The man needs to get some help."
The police come; the police hesitate; they need gloves, they have no gloves. We get them gloves. One policeman gets to work to get the man up. The mad man does not want to be touched. The mad man is naked from the waist down. He had taken off his pants, pulled them down, turns over back to front, front to back, genitals out for all the world to see.
The students, whose cellphones are banned, are taking pictures of the scene. Mad man, police, students, teachers, alumnae watch each other. Eventually, the one policeman gets some assistance from another policeman and puts the mad man into the car - the car which could not be tainted by blood so that we had to put newspaper on the seats so that the man could be put in the car. The man is moved, but we are still shaken. Innocence is lost.
Reports fly around: The little girl, the little girl in the van at the gate was hit! Two policemen had taken her out of the van, with her mouth all bloodied and had taken her to the hospital. Call the little girl's school. Which school? It is the Covenant Christian Academy Prep. School. School is called. The school calls the mother. The mother screams.
Sense of security ravaged
The innocence, the sense of security have been ravaged and demolished. Why? Because of lack of thought and care. Good intentions to assist the passer-by being stoned by the madman had turned into chaos and mayhem. Bodily harm, emotional and mental trauma had been inflicted on the young, the innocent and the unsuspecting.
Never again can we regain the age of innocence; we have lost it as a school. We have become a part of the angst and pain experienced by the soul of Jamaica.
The soul of this nation cries out in anguish, and we no longer can operate as if there are any enclaves of safety. All are being pulled into this twisting, agonising cry of a country burdened and shamed by the innocent blood that has been shed; of bodies that have been maimed and twisted; of mothers' anguished cries bawling out for their sons and daughters gone too soon. Gone too soon by the hands of gunmen; boys with undeveloped minds toting guns; seared consciences and blighted spirits. Blood spilled by lawmen stressed and fearful and ignoring procedures because stress erases judgment and care. Lawmen, who need to be seen as human beings with cares and needs, whose lives are threatened by death at every turn. They crack too.
The powers that be are shaken. They express concern and assurance of sure and thorough investigations. Reports are taken, questions asked, checks are done. Get it right. No mistakes are to be made here. Convince the teachers that not all policemen are careless and trigger-happy. Make them believe that they can rely on us. Damage control is necessary. Watch those unbelieving eyes as the police explain that they are our friend, that they will deal with the situation justly and fairly. Only the outcome will tell.
The news media are all around. There is a story here. This one will sell the newspaper. There are many good things, wonderful things that happen at this school, but that gets little media attention. This does, though. This sells. The features of a good story lie here: police, mad man, gunshots, blood, schoolyard, children, teachers, staff room. All the elements of a good story packaged together. But teachers, students, learning, achieving, sacrificing, overcoming - too nice, too clean. No story lies there.
And so, in this our 80th year of existence, we have entered into a new phase - a phase that highlights that there is no safety in location. It does not matter that we are situated across from Jamaica House where the Prime Minister's office is located - there is no immunity. There is no immunity in the country; there is no immunity in the town. There is no safety downtown; there is no safety uptown. We are all a part of the great world woe and grief that have engulfed us as the savage beast of crime and violence ravages us all.
Yet, as a school, we know one thing: We will continue to strive for excellence and godliness and in this school, we will continue Deo Duce Quaere Optima - With God as Guide, Seek the Best.
Esther Tyson is principal of the Ardenne High School, St. Andrew.