Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Boston Marathon. Although I didn't include the words "shooting" or "bombing," those two words likely popped into your heads. These three events have made indelible marks in modern history, with random acts of violence in the United States over the past two years becoming almost a weekly occurrence.
Now more than ever, people, especially school-age children and their parents, have to be aware of -- and prepared for -- school tragedies.
While records of school shootings in the U.S. go back to 1764, the Columbine shooting in Littleton, Colo., by two students in 1999 was the worst massacre to occur at a high school. Two seniors killed 12 students and one teacher and wounded 21 others before committing suicide.
On Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy struck when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and targeted other sites around the country. These acts sent the nation into a frenzy; many were afraid to leave their homes, much less send their children to school.
The recent epidemic of violence within schools and at public events is much like what the terrorists attempted to accomplish in 2001. Fear tactics are built by the shooter. They killed the people who treated them wrongly. People with mental illnesses have been responsible for many of the acts of violence, including those that occurred at Columbine, Virginia Tech, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, and many others.
Unfortunately, too many people walk around with a "it'll never happen to me" attitude. I know that is the case at my school, Quaker Valley High School, nestled in the ever-safe "Sewickley Bubble."
I asked some students how they felt about the threats. Zoe Fishter, a Quaker Valley student, said, "It's something I think about all the time. Sometimes I sit in class and think, 'How could I escape if something terrible were to happen?' If a shooting were to happen, I'm not just going to be a sitting duck during a lockdown. I have an escape route planned from every classroom in the school."
Although this particular student had the topic at the forefront of her mind, others didn't.
Some responded, "It will never happen here ... not at QV." Others admitted they had never even thought about it.
But indeed it did happen. On Oct. 28, 2013, during sixth period, students were ordered out onto the football field. A flurry of chatter spread across the student body: "drill," "drug bust," "bomb threat."
Once all students were accounted for, we learned that a bomb threat had been found written in a school bathroom. The students were released for the day; the school was deemed safe later that day.
The next day an uneasy feeling had spread over the school. Teachers and staff assured everyone that we were safe. But during fifth period, students were pulled out of classes. There had been another threat.
Both instances proved to be meaningless acts, and the suspect was later identified and removed from school. All threats now have to be taken seriously, especially when they take place at a school.
"It all became very real," said Teresa Reiter, a Quaker Valley junior. "It seemed like the horrors you only hear on the news were actually happening. I was terrified."
During the second threat, all students were searched by a K-9 unit as a precaution. Although the sight of dogs sniffing through students' personal belongings, as well as the school, was unsettling, it provided peace of mind for the students.
It's important in this day and age to think this way. Are you going to just save yourself or help out? Think about a plan. It could be as simple as checking for the closest exits or carrying an emergency kit with you.
But even though the threat of the unknown seems to loom over the modern-day teen, it's good to stay optimistic. Don't walk around dumbly saying, "Something like this could never happen to me," and certainly don't change your lifestyle over it. Go to the movies, go to school, hang out Downtown. If we stop doing things because of the threat of random violence, then they have won.
Let's hope we see these threats and take the effort toward stopping them. But before then, keep a level head and be prepared for the unknown.
Rachel Brieve, 17, is a junior at Quaker Valley High School. This essay was written during last fall's Allegheny Intermediate Unit gifted and talented journalistic writing and reporting apprenticeship taught by professor Helen Fallon at Point Park University.