Opinion

TOLTZ | Remembering the victims of senseless school violence

Author: Ken Toltz - August 13, 2018 - Updated: August 14, 2018

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Ken Toltz
Ken Toltz

On a very hot sunny Saturday afternoon this month, I attended yet another gun violence prevention protest rally on the west steps of Denver’s Colorado State Capitol. This one was a local version of the national March on the NRA, a student-activist led movement of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student survivors of the Valentine’s Day 2018 school shooting.

MSD students have been touring the country this summer following the hugely well-attended national March for Our Lives rally this past March 24, which followed the very moving March 14 National School Walkout marking one month after the Parkland, Florida MSD shooting. Many of the MSD student activists are now completing a national bus tour dubbed the Road to Change, speaking in community after community on political engagement and voting registration.

In addition to marches, rallies, speakers, and exhortations from spiritual leaders, the student-activists sometimes dramatize the human toll of American gun violence with a die-inDenver’s event included all of the above, with a twist.

Prior to the die-in, organizers handed out hundreds of two-foot square placards each displaying a name in big bold black letters, I was handed a sign with the name Derrick Brun. Each large name card displayed a different name and as the participants laid down on the steps of Colorado’s Capitol, we symbolically represented a person, now dead, a victim of one of America’s many school shootings in the last 19 years since the April 20, 1999 Columbine High School horror which took place about 15 miles from where we gathered.

As I lay on the Capitol steps, I wondered about the name on my card. It wasn’t a familiar name, which probably meant Derrick Brun wasn’t a victim of a Colorado mass shooting. Although his name was not familiar, there was no doubt that somewhere in America a family had been traumatized and forever changed by his sudden loss. And it was also more than likely that Derrick Brun’s death had traumatized a community, which will never understand why he became a gun violence victim while going about his daily life.

‘March on the NRA’ protest on Aug. 4 in Denver. (KUSA-9News, Denver)

This is what I’ve learned about Derrick Brun, including why he was remembered and honored. In the spring of 2005, six years after the Columbine High School massacre took the lives of 13 including students and teachers, a 16-year-old student brought a shotgun and two pistols into Red Lake High School on the Red Lake Indian Reservation near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Derrick Brun had recently left the Red Lake reservation police force and been hired as a high school security guard. But in 2005 in the Red Lake Chippewa community, it was not considered necessary for the high school security guard to carry a firearm, so he sat near the entrance unaware of what might happen.

When the shooter entered the school, he had already shot and killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion at home, then shot his way into the high school, where Derrick Brun was stationed. The unarmed Brun rushed toward the shooter, drawing fire, which alerted everyone within hearing distance that something terrible was happening in their school. Within a few minutes of Brun’s shooting, five students and a teacher were shot dead, making Red Lake High School the home of the deadliest school shooting since 1999.

An obvious hero, the 28-year-old Derrick Brun was also another tragic victim of teenage gun violence, a uniquely American phenomenon. Thanks to a very determined and creative band of high school, middle school and college student-activists, we remembered and honored Brun’s life-saving action and hope that, perhaps, we are indeed on the road to change.

Ken Toltz

Ken Toltz

Ken Toltz is a Boulder businessman, longtime gun-violence prevention activist and former Democratic nominee for Congress.