For David Benke, a 57-year-old math teacher, February 23, 2010 was just another day at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, CO, where he was monitoring the parking lot after school. But then he heard some popping sounds that he thought might be fireworks and went to investigate. What he found was a gunman walking through the parking lot and taking shots at students with a hunting rifle as terrified teenagers ran for their lives. Benke sprang into action, tackling 32-year-old Bruco Strongeagle Eastwood and pinning him to the ground. Eastwood had already shot and wounded two students, but Benke’s action prevented further tragedy. As Jefferson County Sherrff Ted Mink put it, “Believe me when I say, I think he stopped what could have been a more tragic event than it was this afternoon.”
It’s unclear what motivated Eastwood, a former Deer Creek student, but he has an arrest record in Colorado dating back to 1996 for menacing, assault, domestic violence and driving under the influence. He has been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, appearing in court via video link on Wednesday, February 24, when he was ordered held on $1 million bail. The two students survived Tuesday’s shooting and one remained hospitalized.
So why write about this incident? As a teacher, I am thrilled to find such a postiive and truly moving story about a fellow teacher. The media loves to drag us in the dirt and hold us accountable for so many wrongs, which makes it especially pleasing to read of David Benke’s courage. I’m not alone in being moved by this teacher’s bravery. A Facebook page has been created called “Dr. David Benke Is A Hero!!!!” for people wishing to express gratitude for his courageous act. As of this writing, late Wednesday, it has attracted over 25,000 messages. William Mamudi wrote, “GOD Bless you, Dr. Benke! A standing ovation from a Science teacher and English tutor from Indonesia here.” Guillermo A. Bustamante posted, “Dude, you rock!” Holly Grywusiewicz added, “Words cannot express the gratitude for what you did on Feb. 23, 2010. You will forever and always be an angel and a hero. The world needs more people like you Dr. David Benke!”
But there’s more to this. Deer Creek is about two miles from Columbine High School, site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, where 12 students and one teacher were killed in 1999. The two gunmen, both Columbine students, then turned their guns on themselves. Since that time, public schools across the country, and especially in Colorado, have focused hard on creating safe environments. During one of the innumerable drills at Deer Creek Middle School, Benke used to tell his students that if anything ever happened, he wanted to be able to “do something about it.” And so when he saw a man shooting at students on Tuesday, “What was going through my mind, was that I promised,” Benke said.
All of those drills paid off – paid off too, because when the students saw what was happening, they scattered quickly. There was no out-of-control screaming; they just took off running quietly, exactly as they had been trained to do time and time again. They were prepared. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. Kudos to the adminstration at Deer Creek Middle School.
And let’s remember too, that contrary to public perception, violent crime in schools has declined dramatically since 1994, according to a report from the Virginia School Violence Project. Despite the incidents of school violence that capture media attention, the reality is that children are safer in school than almost anywhere else in the community, due to the high degree of supervision that schools provide. Thank you, Dr. David Benke.
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