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25 Years Later, Parents Of Butte School Shooting Victim Speak Out

Hand gun.
Hand gun.

The inaugural Jeremy Bullock Safe Schools Summit held in Butte this week brought around 150 teachers, school administrators, law enforcement and mental health workers together to talk through the growing concern about violence in schools. The summit is named after Jeremy Bullock, an 11-year-old boy shot and killed on a school playground in Butte 25 years ago.

Montana Public Radio's Corin Cates-Carney spoke with Jeremy's parents Robin and Bill Bullock during the convention this week.

Corin Cates-CarneyRobin, in your opening comments you mentioned that after you lost Jeremy a police officer came to you and said, 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy,' and then over the last 25 years you've seen other families lose children in this way. How do you make sense of that?

Robin BullockI don't think there is sense to be made. I think there is an unfortunate growing group of families that have continued to be impacted by these type of incidents. And whether it's a loss of child through an act of violence such as this, or through a loss of child through suicide because they've been bullied or something. It is still an incredible loss to that family, to that community. So I don't make sense of it. As a family and a community we continue to survive and we hope, like Jeremy did, to improve the conditions that we currently have, because that's what he would want.

Bill BullockWe have to do a better job as parents. It falls upon us to keep our children safe and make sure that they're not harming others. And we have all the help we can ask for from all the state and local agencies but we have to do it and we have to take accountability here.

Corin Cates-CarneyThis is the first summit on school safety in Jeremy's name. Why was that needed now?

Robin BullockThe 25 year mark hit us fairly severely because 2018 was a horrendous year for student safety, and we started talking about that. How could this still not, how can it still be this bad and continuing to get worse?

School Shooting Incidents By Year, 1970 - present.
Credit Center for Homeland Defense and Security, Naval Postgraduate School
School Shooting Incidents By Year, 1970 - present.

Corin Cates-CarneyWhen Jeremy Bullock was shot in the spring of 1994 by another student at Margaret Leary Elementary, he was reportedly the youngest school shooting victim in the nation's history. According to the reporting collaborative Guns in America, school shootings are rare. However, there are data to support that school shootings are becoming more common. A federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention report published earlier this year says that between July of 1994 and June of 2016 more than 420 people were killed in school-associated homicides. According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, last year was the deadliest year of K-12 school shootings in the United States, based on publicly-available data going back to 1970. The Center reports 61 people, including shooters, were killed in school shootings in 2018.

When people are talking about this issue, school safety, violence in schools, specifically gun violence: how have you seen that change over the last 25 years?

Robin BullockWhen 25 years ago we went and we worked with the Legislature in the juvenile justice system, Montana was one of the first states to start outlawing guns around school properties. We're not anti-guns. There's a place for hunting, particularly, in Montana. Our family hunts. But it should not be around schools and certainly not around students or children that can get ahold of them and do something as harmful as as what happened here. I wish I could say that things have improved over the years. Some of the statistics, I'm amazed at the unfortunate nature. And it seems that somehow we're losing the ability to actually collaborate with each other, have respectful dialogues and conversations with each other and actually try to make progress.

Corin Cates-CarneyIs that frustrating?

Robin BullockIt's, it's frustrating. It's unfortunate. It's so sad that it hasn't improved, but we are heartened by looking at the faces around at that conference and knowing that so many people want to help their students and want to make improvements. That's what we're really trying to focus on is how can we be that -- hopefully that positive catalyst -- to try to improve some conditions here.

Corin Cates-CarneyAs Robin and Bill Bullock talk they occasionally reach for the other's hand.

Bill BullockWe got to do what we can. One child at a time, one school at a time. There's no simple answers. It's not just the guns, it's all of the different problems coming to a head.

Robin BullockIt's amazing how much influence one individual can have, because frankly it was only one individual that took our son. And whether it's just providing a kind word to a student in need or a parent in need, it's amazing how those little things that you do on a daily basis can really help people out.

Corin Cates-CarneyThe politics of gun violence, the politics of school safety seems inseparable from this conversation. As a family who has, who was more politically connected than most, with a family member being governor or presidential candidate Steve Bullock: How do you look at how that conversation is happening with people who could change policy?

Bill BullockWell we just hope and pray that they will use the resources available to them to do the right thing.

Robin BullockWe'd hope for common sense and respect.

Corin Cates-CarneyYou use the word or the phrase, 'common sense,' and I hear that a lot, and everyone has a different idea behind what that is. But for you what does that mean when you say there needs to be some common sense? Are there specific things you want to see happen?

Robin BullockWe specifically are the side of the family that's not politicians. And to us common sense is making sure that you have respect for each other, that you're educated in everything that you do, whether it's associated with firearms, whether it's associated with mental health, whether it's associated with a family well-being. Each of these things, there is no one -- if you just do this one thing everything will be magically solved. That's not how this works. Because even if you address one leg of the stool you still need to address all the other elements as well. We hope that through summits like this with open dialogues about whether it's mental health or guns or student plans, that we can create a space for continuous improvement. That would be common sense.

Corin Cates-CarneyThe Jeremy Bullock Safe Schools summit included sessions on trauma-informed school drills and emergency planning, how to use grants to pay for safety projects, and best practices for student and school safety.

With the namesake of the summit being your son Jeremy, what should people know about his story?

Robin BullockHe was this incredible son, brother, student, nephew, grandson who loved school, who would always draw rainbows. Loved playing outdoors. Loved his family. Loved nature. We would always take hikes and he would always pick up trash along the way because they always believed in leaving a place better than when you entered it. And hopefully he continues to live on doing that through summits like this, through the fields that were built and through his brothers and sister.

Bill BullockJeremy was beautiful. There isn't a day that we don't grieve his loss. It's sad that the world hasn't been able to enjoy him like we did for such a brief time.

Corin Cates-CarneyBill and Robin Bullock, thank you so much for taking the time, I appreciate it.

That was Montana Public Radio's Corin Cates-Carney speaking with Bill and Robin Bullock, parents of Jeremy Bullock who was killed during a school shooting at age 11 at a Butte elementary school in 1994.

According to Center for Homeland Defense and Security, there have been eight school shootings in Montana since 1970, and at least nine people were injured or killed in reported incidents.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Corin Cates-Carney is the Flathead Valley reporter for MTPR.