No matter how hard she tries, Christian Ransfer will never forget April 14, 2003.

That’s the day gunmen with AK-47s barged into a gym full of students at John McDonogh Sr. High School. One student died and five others were injured.

Ransfer, who was pregnant at the time, was trampled during the melee and had to be taken to the hospital.

“I try to bury that day. I don’t talk about it at all. For me, it was very traumatizing,” Ransfer, 36, said.

Ransfer and a few friends had just gotten off the bus from nursing school and went into the gym at McDonogh. They were there only about 30 minutes when the shooting happened, she remembered.  

“It was just chaos. I was six months pregnant. I went to the hospital and stayed there until I had the baby,” said Ransfer, who was 15 at the time of the shooting. 

She says after the shooting the students didn’t get any support.

“I never could get over that day. I didn’t know how to handle what happened,” Ransfer said. “You never heard anything from the school board. No one ever checked on any of us. There was no school counseling.”

Four years earlier, in 1999, teens Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. They killed 13 people, including 12 students, and wounded more than 20 before turning the guns on themselves and committing suicide.

There would be more school shootings in the years after Columbine. In 2012, gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Six years later, in 2018, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Last year, an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and killed 21 people, including 19 students. And on March 27, six died during a shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville,Tennessee.

Texas U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio) was censured by Texas Republicans for his support of bipartisan gun reform legislation. Credit: Tony Gonzales

According to a report by The Washington Post, 349,000 students have experienced gun violence at school and there have been 377 school shootings since the Columbine shooting in 1999.

But despite the growing number of young people experiencing gun violence at school, there continues to be pushback on gun reform from some politicians.

In March, the Texas State Republican Executive Committee voted to censure Republican Tony Gonzales for his support of bipartisan legislation passed last year and same-sex marriage protection legislation. 

And on April 6, Tennessee House Republicans expelled two young Black representatives — Justin Pearson and Justin Jones — from the Tennessee House of Representatives after they protested for gun reform on the House floor in response to The Covenant School shooting.

The Nashville Metropolitan Council reinstated Jones four days after the expulsion and on April 12, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted to reinstate Pearson.

In New Orleans, City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who was an at-large council member and president of the city council at the time of the McDonogh shooting, went to the school when he heard about the shooting. 

“I was shocked,” Thomas said. “I wondered what would prompt that level of violence inside a school. It shouldn’t happen at a school. Even in a city with New Orleans’ violent history, we looked at school as a safe place.”

Thomas said school security changed after the McDonogh shooting 20 years ago including the addition of metal detectors and school resource officers. He said America must “take a real look at our violent past and our violent history.”

“Are we willing to address that — our love for weapons of mass destruction, our love for power and dominance?” Thomas said. “It’s stopping us from reversing course and becoming a more peaceful place. I think our future is in jeopardy.”

Tennessee House Republicans expelled Democrat lawmaker Justin Pearson after he and fellow Tennessee House Representative Justin Jones protested for gun control on the House floor. He was reinstated on April 12. Credit: Lakethen Mason
Tennessee House Democrat Justin Jones, along with fellow Tennessee House of Representative member Justin Pearson, was expelled by Tennessee House Republicans for protesting in favor of gun reform after the shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. Credit: Justin Jones

Ransfer says she believes the trauma she experienced from the McDonogh school shooting contributed to her son’s heart complications. He only lived five months. 

Ransfer initially didn’t want to return to school, especially after her son died. But with the encouragement of her best friend, a supportive teacher and a school counselor, she returned to McDonogh. Ransfer graduated with honors, in the Top 10 of her class, in 2004.

“I was young and I was pregnant, so people had thoughts of what I couldn’t do,” Ransfer said. “In my mind, I had a mission to complete. But I just never walked in the gym again.” 

Today, Ransfer is a nurse and an overprotective mother of three — two boys and a girl ages 16, 10 and 1. 

She says she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the McDonogh school shooting. She gets nervous in big crowds.

“I may go to second lines, but I’m always aware of my surroundings. My antenna is always up,” Ransfer said. 

She gets emotional this time of year. Her son would have been 20 years old this year.

“It’s a day of your life that you’ll never forget.

No matter how much you try and forget it, it’s going to always come up,” Ransfer said.

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Lottie L. Joiner, assistant managing editor at Verite, is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience covering issues that impact underserved and marginalized communities. She...