- Shenise Abercrombieaunt of 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington, who was shot dead at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, last week. Abercrombie has since been advocating for school safety reform and action against gun violence.
Wednesday’s nationwide student walkout occurred one month after 17 students and staff were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many students left classes for 17 minutes—one minute for each person murdered in Parkland. But in Alabama some students walked out for 18 minutes to remember another student who was recently killed by gun violence at school: Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African-American student who was shot dead last week at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, by a fellow student. She was a high school senior who was planning to attend college next year. She had dreams of becoming a nurse. While the Parkland shooting has dominated national headlines for a month, far less coverage was paid to the death of Courtlin Arrington. We are joined by Courtlin’s aunt, Shenise Abercrombie.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Wednesday’s nationwide student walkout occurred one month after 17 students and staff were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many students left classes for 17 minutes—one minute for each person murdered in Parkland. But in Alabama, some students walked out for 18 minutes to remember another student who was recently killed by gun violence at school: Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African-American student who was shot dead last week at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, by a fellow student. She was a high school senior who was planning to attend college next year. She had dreams of becoming a nurse.
AMY GOODMAN: While the Parkland shooting has dominated national headlines for a month, far less coverage was paid to the death of Courtlin. We go now to Birmingham, where we’re joined by Courtlin’s aunt, Shenise Abercrombie.
Shenise, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what happened to your daughter—to your niece on—was it March 7th?
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: Yes. She was in class. School was dismissing. And the young man, that was in the class with her, he pulled out a gun, and she and some other students asked what was he doing. And he pulled the gun, and he shot her. And he shot her in the chest, and the bullet went straight through, and it killed her.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And when did you learn what happened to her? How were you told?
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: School normally lets out about 3:30. And my dad called me. It was a little after 4, I want to say maybe about 15 minutes after 4:00. And my dad called me and told me that her mom had called her. I called him, and her brother called him and told him that she had been shot. And so, I left work immediately, and I got to the hospital.
And when I got there, I was asking about her, and the young man behind the desk told me to sit down, and he would get some information for me. At that time, I saw the police officer, and I saw a well-dressed man. I did not know that he was the chaplain. The police officer came over to me, and he asked me, was I the mother. And I told him that I wasn’t. I told him that I was her aunt and that I’m her dad’s sister. And I told him that her dad is incarcerated, but my dad and I help take care of her. And so, he said, “Well, just stay right there. I’ll be right back with some information.”
So, shortly after that, the EMT came out, and he sat next to me, and he had an orange sticker and an ink pen. And he asked me what was her name, and I gave him her name. And he asked me her birthdate. At that time, I asked him what—could he tell me anything or what was going on with her. And he told me he couldn’t tell me anything. I could tell by his response, because he had his head down, he didn’t even give me eye contact—I knew it wasn’t good. I called my aunt at that time, because her number was the only one I could remember. And I asked her to call the family and tell the family what happened and to tell the family to pray, because I know it’s not good if Courtlin can’t identify herself, if she can’t speak.
And so, shortly after that, her mother showed up at the hospital. And I told her mom to go to the desk and let them know that she’s here, so that they can give her some information, because I didn’t—we didn’t know anything. Later, my dad arrived, and my husband arrived. And we waited for a while. The young man’s family was there, as well. And they were very loud and acting very unruly. And they asked our family to move from the door, so that people could come in. So we stepped to the side. Shortly after that, her mom went back, and her mom’s boyfriend. They came back out—well, her mom didn’t come back out, but her boyfriend did. And he did a motion as to—up under the neck type of motion, and as to say, you know, that it was over. And that’s when we knew that Courtlin—I’m sorry. That’s when we knew that Courtlin did not make it. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And, Shenise, how did her dad find out that Courtlin had died, had been killed in school?
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: I called the prison and—that night. That same night, I called the prison, and I explained to them what happened. They told me to—they took my number, and to give a few minutes, and they would go and get him and bring him to the phone. They were very nice, the officers that we spoke to. And they brought my brother to the phone. And my grandmother is 92, so he thought it was my grandmother. And I told him no. I told him that Courtlin had been shot at school, and—but she didn’t make it, she died.
So, my brother—that’s my brother’s only child. My brother, he did not take it well at all. My brother said that that was all he had been wanting. We’ve been working with the Maxwell Law Firm to get him out of prison, and that’s all he talked about, was when he got out, what he was going to do with her and everything. My brother and I had a conversation just the exact week before, to the day, and we were talking about his attorneys’ payment. And my brother said, “Courtlin is all set.” And anytime anybody would give him or try to send him money, he would always divert it to her, to help take care of her. And he said, “She didn’t even know I’ve ordered her prom dress.” He said, “And I’ve ordered a cap and gown.” He said, “And I’m so proud of her because she did it, she’s made it.” And he said, “And she’s going to be so excited when that dress comes, because she doesn’t know that I’ve done that.” And my brother—
AMY GOODMAN: She wanted to be a nurse?
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: Yes, she wanted to be a nurse. My brother—I spoke with her instructor, and her instructor said that she was two months out from being a nursing assistant, and she was going to do that until she finished her RN program. And my brother said that “I ordered all of her scrubs. All of her stuff is done for her.” So, we took—he said, “I took care of that for her.”
AMY GOODMAN: Shenise, the—
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: So she didn’t have to worry about that.
AMY GOODMAN: The Centers for Disease Control looked at gun deaths over a 12-year period, since 2002, and found that black young people, black children, are 10 times more likely to be killed by a gun than white kids.
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for right now?
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: We have—this is an adult problem that has to be solved by the adults. Our future—the children are our future, and they’re dying. And we won’t have a future if we don’t do anything about it. Something has to be done. There needs to be stricter laws, as far as security goes in the schools. Something has to be done to intervene in how easy it is for a child to get a gun. Adults have to go through so many checks. How is it that these guns are making it on the streets, and they can get them so easily?
And then, you know, the law states that if your child is of school age, that they have to go to school. If the parents don’t send their children to school, they are—they are put in jail. So, why can’t they protect our children while they’re at school? Your child may not come home. That is very horrifying for a parent, to know I’ve dropped my child off at school, or they rode the bus to school, but when 3:00 or 3:30 comes, I’m being called to identify my child. They never make it home.
AMY GOODMAN: Young people marched out of your—of the high school where Courtlin was killed, Huffman High School, and they said that 18 minutes should be recognized for the 17 Parkland and for the death of Courtlin, as well. Will you be participating in the March for Our Lives in Washington or in Birmingham, in any of the protests across the country on March 24th?
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: Courtlin’s funeral is on March 24th, so we will be laying her to rest on March 24th. We will not be able to participate in any of those activities. My dad did go to the walkout on yesterday. My children participated in the walkout on yesterday. I did not go. I could not bear it to go. So, my dad went in our—as to represent our family.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Shenise Abercrombie, our condolences to you and to your family.
SHENISE ABERCROMBIE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Shenise Abercrombie’s niece, Courtlin, was shot dead at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama. Courtlin Arrington was 17 years old.