WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The day after the fatal shooting at Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem, Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson gave an impromptu speech to the community.
In the speech, one message resonated with people above all else.
“It’s OK not to be OK,” Thompson said.
However, before she was able to comfort those she’s responsible for protecting, she had to get them home safely.
“We’re no longer living in a world where we can say, ‘it’s not going to happen here,’” she said.
On Sept. 1, shortly after noon, Thompson’s officers responded to the school to help a Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer as they attempted to save the life of student William Chavis Raynard Miller Jr.
“It was heartbreaking that you spend, in my case, nearly 28 years of your life trying to preserve life. And that day, we lost another life, and that was the life of a child,” Thompson said.
In the hours to follow, her officers joined forces with other agencies as they tried to keep parents calm and figure out the best course of action to reunite them with their children.
“When you’re dealing with an incident of that magnitude, there’s always going to be some organized chaos,” Thompson said.
Thompson said her department leaned on relationships while responding.
“We had the FBI. We had the DEA. ATF. We had Homeland Security. We had U.S. Marshals,” she added.
Still, even after the families were back together, Thompson knew the recovery was just beginning.
“It’s not OK to be in school and witness a fellow classmate being gunned down. It’s not OK to be in school and have to duck bullets. It’s not OK to be in school and hear gunshots,” she said.
It’s a sentiment she also shared with her officers.
“We’ve had three officer-involved shootings this year,” Thompson said. “If you don’t deal with it, and you continually expose yourself to it, then it becomes cumulative. And as humans, we all have a breaking point.”
As we’ve documented, Thompson is on a wellness journey herself. Events like the one at Mount Tabor accentuate the need for the mental aspect of that.
“I’ve tried to just be real with myself and true to who I am,” she said, pointing to the raw emotion she expressed during the initial press conference following the shooting.
Thompson believes much of what’s driving the increase in violence among teens comes down to a singular feeling: hope.
“Hope does not exist in a lot of our children’s minds. Many of them don’t expect that they will live beyond the age of 25, and I’ve heard some of them say that, and so there’s this ‘no fear’ kind of attitude,” she explained. “How do we restore the hope in our children?”
Guns have been found on North Carolina school campuses since the Mount Tabor shooting. As Thompson points out, we have lost children in firearm-related incidents since.
“The violence associated with guns is, in my opinion, totally out of control. Not just in our city, in our community, but in our nation, and it is sickening to see the lives that are lost as a result of it,” she said.
For Thompson, it’s not about debating the right to bear arms. Instead, it’s about giving young people the resources they need to know and do what’s right.
“For every one that’s seeking the assistance, we know that there are five, six, seven, that still need it,” she said.