It’s every parent’s nightmare.
You come out of the coffee shop blinking in the late morning sunshine and you realise your mobile’s been on silent. As you do one hundred times a day, you instinctively glance at its screen – must clean it properly. A text message arrives, then another, a flurry of them. You notice a series of missed calls. Something’s happened – but what? You read the first text, then another – they’re all telling you the same thing, the message horribly the same. The one you never dreamed you’d hear. You hardly notice your coffee splashing over your shoes. A man is prowling around your child’s school. The man is armed with a gun.
You’re just a couple of streets away, you rush down there, but find that all is unnervingly quiet. Summer sunshine casts soft shadows of the schoolyard trees, a lone bird skims across the pale blue sky, but there on the periphery of your vision you see the door to the classrooms – kicked open. Two police officers sprawl on the concrete by the entrance, dead. The bird disappears into the treeline as you enter the corridor – the one with your daughter’s classroom. Then you hear them: shots in the next hallway.
You advance, more urgently now, until you glimpse through the glass in the classroom door the many traumatised pupils, wide-eyed, huddled together, hiding under tables. You try in vain to see your daughter. You can’t. You gesture to the children, but they’re frozen with fear. You are literally going to have to pull and drag them out. But where is your daughter? Then you hear heavy breathing, heavier footsteps – approaching. Heavy boots, a click, more: click, click, click … a gun being loaded. Time is running out. Suddenly you hear a voice from a broom cupboard by the exit, all the way back down the corridor: it cries your name. Your daughter. What do you do?
Do you abandon the class with the 24 children? Do you stay and try to defend them? At the far end of the corridor, your eyes fall on another body, a teacher who tried and failed to stop the gunman. Then another shape, sprawling, motionless – another teacher who met the same fate.
This could be about being heroic. All of us have the capacity for extreme courage. But if you confront the gunman, assume it’s certain that like the police officers and the two teachers before you, you will be killed. So confronting him will be futile: he will shoot you as he has shot them. He will shoot you then shoot all the children, including your daughter, but you will have tried to be heroic – and we all want to think of ourselves as heroic. But what other choices do you have? If you go to the class you can lead them out of the window to safety. If you go to your daughter, you will be able to get her out before the gunman arrives. There is just not time to do both.
So what do you do? It’s not easy. Something like this never is. But people in these situations have to make a choice. What’s yours?
Save the 24 innocent children of other decent parents or save a single child of your own. That is your dilemma. The worst of your life. Perhaps of anyone’s. But there it is.
You can hear the gunman’s footsteps approaching, the clicks of the weapon being primed, you can see the eyes of the children, you can hear the voice of your daughter calling you, beseeching you – what are you going to do?
You are probably experiencing a whirl of emotions. So to make things clearer, let me reduce your choice to three equations:
Confront the gunman, everyone dies = 26 deaths (24 + 1 + 1)
Abandon the class, the other children die = 24 deaths
Abandon your daughter, only she dies = 1 death
What do you do?
I know what you would do. I know what we’d both do. But why?
This is what the book is about. This and questions like it. The truth is that as you rushed down that corridor towards the broom cupboard, there is one fact you may not have realised.
You were not alone.
Try another hypothetical: here.
Where to get the book: here.