“Scared out of my mind”: School violence threats on the rise after Michigan shooting


Bailey Niles

The idea of a school shooting hangs over many students’ heads after the Michigan shooting.

Isabel Young and Yness Martinez

The stretch between Thanksgiving and winter break can feel like stumbling toward the finish line in most years. But for many students, the last three weeks have felt less like a crawl and more like a frantic sprint to safety.

Following the Nov. 30 Michigan shooting that killed four students and injured seven, mere days after Vandegrift students returned to the classroom, threats of school violence have shot up around the country. Last week, a threat to Lake Travis frightened many VHS students into staying home. Today, a nationwide TikTok shooting threat trend has reached schools as close as in Austin ISD, prompting increases in security and, in some cases, shutdowns.

“I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands when I come to school sometimes,” senior Isabella Niles said. “I take every day with awareness of the things that could happen. I’m constantly vigilant.”

News of threats within LISD on Dec. 9 spread throughout social media over the course of a morning. Within minutes, a student body still reeling from learning of the deadliest school shooting this year had turned the Lake Travis threats into direct Vandegrift threats in a morbid game of Telephone.

“It could happen to any of us,” junior Bridget O’Brien said. “That does add a fear factor– what happened [in Michigan] happened to kids our age, and the shooter was our age. [The shooter] could have been any of us. I’d be scared out of my mind.”

In what is already a stressful environment for students struggling with Vandegrift’s competitive academics, the reminder of the possibility of an active shooter situation is an unwelcome one.

“There have been days where I’ve talked to my mom about not going into school if something doesn’t feel right,” Niles said. “I feel like sometimes I have to choose between having to take a test and being safe.”

Public outrage over how school officials conducted safety measures in Michigan has sparked conversations across the country. The student accused of the shooting exhibited signs of violence that were ignored by administration.

“I don’t know what I would do in that situation,” O’Brien said. “[But] if kids are having problems like that, or showing signs, they have to make sure they’re getting the help they need and they don’t go down that path.”

Many of these conversations turned to broader debates over gun control, and legislation that could prevent another tragedy.

“Maybe this is a controversial opinion, but I don’t think minors should have any access to guns,” Niles said. “We’ve seen it multiple times already that even if they’ve had training, guns can be misused because minors can’t adequately critically think in certain situations. If you have [children], you shouldn’t have deadly weapons in the house.”

Those who oppose restrictions on guns offer alternate solutions.

“If someone wants to do harm, they’ll figure out a way to do it,” O’Brien said. “It’s more important to help kids with the mental stuff, so they don’t get to that place.”

Something all students can agree on is that shooting threats don’t always have to be explicitly stated.

“I do feel like the threat is always there, no matter what,” Niles said. “Every day, I make sure to tell my mom I love her, because you never know.”