October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Read and share stories to honor survivors whose lives have been changed by domestic violence.

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DeDe Alexander

In memory of Makenzie Tu Nidito

I started my elementary teaching career in 1998, the academic year of the Columbine shooting. I tried desperately to help the students feel safe in the world. I didn’t know then that this type of tragic gun violence would be repeated over the next 20 years of my teaching career.

Flash-forward to the school year that started in 2015. After the Sandy Hook school shooting, we had a new fence at our school that kept the “bad guys” out. I had a wonderful class of eager third graders. One of our first assignments was to write about a “small moment.” The one that I will never forget was called “The Rainbow Sled.” One of my students, Makenzie, described her small moment. She painted a frosty picture of a day spent on the mountain with her family. She and her little sisters climbed up the sledding hill with a rainbow sled. That story made me smile.

It was winter break when I got a text and was shocked to see there had been a shooting of two students in our community. And then I saw the next text, “Wasn’t Makenzie in YOUR class?” Not only had our sweet Makenzie been murdered by her father, but her little kindergarten sister was killed too.

On the first day back to school, my class was met by counselors from our school district. This wasn’t an accident; it was violence. This wasn’t done by a stranger. They knew it was the girls’ own father. There were just no words that could make this go away. My heart was broken. My JOB is to teach and keep kids safe!

On that first day back at school, it was rainy because, of course, the heavens were weeping too. I looked up toward our mountains, home of Makenzie’s rainbow sledding moment, and there stretched a beautiful rainbow.

I wear orange for Makenzie and her sister, and for all the others who need us to never stop fighting for reasonable gun laws. I want to look at that snow covered mountain and see those rainbow sledders and say “I’m trying,” and “I really miss you.”

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