“First thing I say: you just joined the club that no one wants to be a member of,” Frank DeAngelis told BuzzFeed News.
Frank DeAngelis was the principal of Columbine High School when 13 people were killed in the 1999 massacre, a tragedy that led to a hyper-awareness of school shootings and to the modern debate about how to prevent them and how to tend to the surviving students.
Since then, DeAngelis has made it his personal mission to call every high school principal that ever found themselves in a similar position, offering his empathy and counsel.
“First thing I say: you just joined the club that no one wants to be a member of,” DeAngelis, who retired as principal of Columbine in 2013, told BuzzFeed News.
Now, those phone calls will become more formalized.
Last Wednesday, 17 principals of schools where a shooting took place on campus met for the first time in Washington, DC, as the Principals Recovery Network.
The group, a creation of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), aims to reach out to a principal after a school shooting and connect them to others who’ve gone through a similar nightmare.
Members include included Ty Thompson from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Jake Heibel from Great Mills High School in Maryland, Stacey Ting-Senini from Sparks Middle School in Reno, Nevada and Elizabeth Brown from Forest High School in Ocala, Florida.
“A lot of it is based around the practicalities of running a school community after a traumatic event” said NASSP spokesperson Bob Farrace, who noted that people expect principals to be the main community leader after a shooting.
“They’re the one who has to take care of everything,” said Farrace. “They’re the ones taking care of faculty, making decisions, making sure students are okay, talking to media. We have to remind them that it’s okay for them to find a group to lean on and find the help they need — because they’ve been through the trauma just as much as everyone else has.”
The network decided that either Thompson or DeAngelis would be the first to make contact because the names of their schools are instantly recognizable — and in the aftermath of a shooting, principals are inundated with hundreds of messages.