This year is a Leap Year which means there’s a Leap Day, February 29th. Since 2000 I have hated that day–the day 6-year old Kayla Rolland was shot to death by a classmate in their school near Flint, Mich.
You see, I’m like most reporters. Over the years you write thousands of stories. Some you forget after a while, others are memorable for one reason or another and then there’s the story that sticks in your gut forever. This is one of them.
The day started out on a light note. Feb. 29, 2000 I was the CNN Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent. We were assigned to do a light feature on how people spend the extra day that comes every four years. Fun.
We never reached our first shoot. As we cruised on the John C. Lodge freeway in downtown Detroit I got a call from our desk about a school shooting in Mt. Morris Township, a suburb of Flint and we were to head there immediately.
During the hour-long drive we monitored the all-news radio station but details were few except for the vital information that the shooting happened at Buell Elementary School. That meant very young victims. We had no idea.
First stop was a command post set up by the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department where we informed as to the main spokespeople and told where we could set up our satellite truck in an area across from the school.
CNN being what it is wanted a live shot ASAP, and then several more after that. You vamp as best you can during those first ones until more solid information becomes available. It finally became available while I was standing out in front of the camera awaiting our next hit. A little boy shot a little girl. They were both 6 years old. I never get nervous in front of a camera, but I was shaking…because I was shaken. I could only think of my two kids…a boy and girl. He was 15, she had just turned 12. Still in school. School. SCHOOL! A place that was supposed to be a safe haven. But the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado that occurred only 10 months previous were still very fresh in our minds.
Now I was standing yards away from a school where a little child killed another. We later learned the boy found the gun in the closet in the crack house home of his drug-dealer uncle with whom he and his family were living because his father was in jail for violating parole. He had served a sentence on a drug-related crime.
We also learned the boy had several behavioral problems, including stabbing a girl with a pencil a few weeks before the shooting. When he tried to kiss little Kayla Rolland, she rejected him. The next day he caught up with her, said, “I don’t like you,” then shot her dead.
Yeah, well, reporters can be a callous ilk, but this one got to me. I could barely get the words out and hold it together while on a live camera. I’ve covered any number of tragedies, natural disasters, plane crashes, shootings, fatal auto accidents, but the vision of a very damaged child violently taking the life of another is something I will never shake. Not ever.
Every four years I dread so-called Leap Day. I think of Kayla. I think of the little boy who shot her. It’s the day our society took a leap backwards…and kept going….Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglas High School, Santa Fe High School, Virginia Tech and on and on and on.
Yes..I hate Leap Day….and every other day school kids and their teachers can no longer feel safe. They’re there to learn. When will this country?