Sunday Mornings With Rania: UT Stabbing from a Parent’s Perspective

Honestly, one of the worst things a parent can hear is that there is an active shooting or stabbing at their child’s school – and it doesn’t matter how old that child is – 5 is like 15 is like 25.

I was vividly reminded of last week when I was in Houston, with UT parents, when headlines broke: “Deadly stabbing on University of Texas at Austin campus.” I watched as phones lit up and frantic texts were going back and forth between siblings and parents. Where were their kids? Are they okay? Were they close to the incident? What was the incident? How do you get them to safety immediately?

Because of my profession, when news like this breaks, I immediately hone in on the perpetrator – Why did they do it? What method did they use? Could they have been stopped? My heart is 100 percent with the victims and they alone drive me but my immediate focus is on the criminality of it all.

This time, however, being next to these parents as the case unfolded live, with their children involved, my focus was with them and it made me think: How do you guide your child through something like this? What will your child’s first thought be and what do you say after all is said and done?

Many know that, in today’s world, Crime Stoppers strongly feels that parents need to be talking to their children – at all ages and in age-appropriate ways – about these types of attacks. It is so sad, but it is true. Here’s a guide:

  • The plan. This is critical. When do you stay put? When you are in a secure place and have been told to by law enforcement who are in control. Now, while we say this is the plan, with this incident, I was seeing the reaction of the students in buildings near the scene and who were on lockdown. Their fight-or-flight systems were ignited and they wanted to escape, by any means, and flee the area. It’s important that you do not do that, especially if you are near the incident and law enforcement is working to control it. Stay put and stay calm. When do you run? You run when the incident is not yet under control and when you are in danger. This calls into question – do you hide? Use your discretion here but if you have thought these situations through and have a plan, you can more calmly make that decision. Who do you listen to? Law enforcement or the agency working to secure your safety and taking control of the situation.
  • Remain calm. This is both impossible and critical. If your child isn’t still dealing with the absolute shock of the situation, if they have already processed that situations like this can take place, if they already have a plan and know that law enforcement will arrive within seconds, that they can make it out safely. This is a product of talking about the chaos and how to navigate it.  
  • Be a good witness. I know what you are thinking: I want my child out of there and not stopping to take photos. I completely agree. That said, the more people who have gotten themselves to safety but have calmly captured the true facts as they unfolded, the easier law enforcement can solve the case at hand. Once you are safe, if there is an opportunity to safely capture an image or other information (key word: SAFELY), it’s beneficial for law enforcement’s case. 
  • Never add to the rumors. News will fly in times like this. You will hear of copycats, additional crimes and more. Be careful of what you hear; try to gather information from school-based law enforcement or the school itself. In the UT case, many reports sprung up of other stabbings happening around campus. One student cut himself by accident but claimed he had been stabbed. These rumors and false claims can rise to the level of being criminal, so beware. In a frantic effort to gather facts, keep your filters on and only share credible information.
  • Talk about your feelings that day, the following week and many more times over the next weeks, months and even year. This is a scary thing, especially for a young adult. Many will deal with it without issue. But for others, deep-rooted fears will take place. Even if they seem ok on the surface, you know your child and you must lead the efforts to help them. Remind them, there was a plan, many were involved at keeping them and their campus safe, they are okay and the feelings that have come up since are normal.

Despite doing all the right things, loss will occur. There are those families who will do every single thing right, have every conversation and raise the most responsible, strong and prepared young adults. But those incredible young adults, in the process of these senseless tragedies, can lose their lives tragically. This happened in the UT case when 19-year-old student Harrison Brownfrom Graham, TX lost his life. Reports show that in his last moments, he asked someone to call his mother, Lori (a fourth-grade teacher) with his cell phone. How do we deal with this loss? I myself am at a loss for words. I did not know Harrison or his family but my heart breaks for them. As a community, I know UT will do whatever it can to embrace them and make certain Harrison’s legacy lives on.

As I write this, there is still a lot we don’t know about the Austin stabbing. And on some level, I don’t know what it matters. The bigger issue is why are these stabbings and shootings happen and how do we as a community, come together creatively and strategically to stop them before they happen. Crime Stoppers has found success in this area having removed almost 300 weapons from schools before they can be used against others. Our hope is to only do more and be a source for solutions in a growing culture of complexities. I say this daily - we love our kids and we sincerely love yours too. Let’s continue to work together, it will only make us stronger.

The free Crime Stoppers Safe School program talks to kids about everything related to crime prevention and public safety. It also gives students access to the anonymous tip line program and cash reward. Thanks to anonymous student tipsters who called Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS, we have solved almost 2000 school cases and removed almost 300 weapons. Students can also text tips, report a tip through the website or by downloading our free Crime Stoppers of Houston app. For more information on Crime Stoppers or the Safe School Program, go to www.crirme-stoppers.org or call 713-521-4600.

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston