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What’s our story on school violence, North Carolina?

At 8:27am yesterday morning, I got a text from EdNC’s Nation Hahn about a school shooting in North Carolina. I have dreaded that moment ever since we launched EducationNC.

On most days when people ask who I am and what I do, I tell them I work for the team at EdNC. But on days like yesterday, I am the CEO, I am the editor-in-chief. And so I drove to Butler High School in Matthews because we cannot do this work and only show up on the good days.

Our job on a day like yesterday — and long after the news cycle is over — is to help the people across North Carolina understand how a school shooting impacts our students, our schools, our state, and our future.

When I arrived at the school, the sun was shining down. My tears started as soon as I saw the “safe place” sign.

There were helicopters and law enforcement. The flag was at half mast.

I had written over the weekend about stumbling stones, and I found what looked like some near the school rock. More tears.

A 14-year-old anti-bullying advocate named Chloe-Olivia Gloston found me, and she sang her song “It still hurts” a cappella in front of the school for us. More tears.

“I don’t know what I am going to do every day when I see his seat empty. It’s going to be so sad,” said Hope Wilson, a tenth grader.

“It’s just crazy,” another student said. “It is crazy.”

“We’ve cried a lot,” three of the students said together.

The students showed me a hat made to remember their classmate on this day, always.

I met Eric Davis, the chair of the State Board of Education, and he said, “We are more determined than ever to make our schools safe for every one of our students.” More tears.

One of our students, 16-year-old Bobby McKeithen, died today. At the vigil, the students behind me were incredulous. “He died over a high school fight,” they said.

A student introduced as Bobby’s girlfriend said she had known him since sixth grade. “Can we just tell him we love him so he knows?” she asked. In unison, those gathered for the vigil, said, “We love you, Bobby.” More tears.

Balloons were released. There were candles. Everyone was locked arm-in-arm. Students cried. People prayed.

The pastor at the vigil said, “We will tell a story as a school, as a community, as a city that will inspire people to believe in greater.”

What is our story, North Carolina? What is our story on the issue of gun violence in our schools, on the safety of our students? What is our greater?

I hope this is a day of change. I hope never to attend another vigil for a student lost to gun violence on school property in my state or any other state.

Yesterday we prayed and called out the name of our lost students as a marker of love and life.

Today we continue to try and build a better world.

Help me figure out what that looks like. It does not look like yesterday.

In the meantime, as the news about who, how, and why unfolds, I ask for your love and for your grace for the family of Bobby McKeithen; the students, the teachers, and the principal of Butler High School; and the leaders of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.