CHANDLER, AZ — Tragically, school shootings have become all too common in America. Some may even call them a "normal" occurrence.
A shooting that sent shock waves across the nation and became one of the deadliest in nearly a decade was at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Yet, it’s, unfortunately, one of more than a dozen deadly school shootings that happened in the U.S. this year alone.
Riana Alexander, a soon-to-be senior at Chandler High School says it’s been a nightmare growing up in an era of gun violence.
“I’ve pretty much grown-up practicing active shooter drills,” she told ABC15.
Alexander doesn’t remember a school year that didn’t have these drills in it.
“Having to make sure that you don’t die with fellow classmates as a third-grader definitely makes you grow up faster,” she added.
It’s a reality she wishes wasn’t her own.
“It’s kind of sad that I had to grow up in a time where that’s a normal thing,” said Alexander.
She says it's so normal that she now immediately scans the room as she enters school.
“Like, this classroom is really small. I don’t know where we’d all be able to hide. And like which doors or windows we could go out of,” said Alexander.
“You’re always thinking about it,” ABC15’s Luzdelia Caballero asked.
“Yeah,” she answered.
Alexander says it’s gotten to a point where many kids in America don't hear a fire alarm or fear fire.
They think: “It could be somebody with a gun,” she said, adding a drill never just feels like practice anymore.
“Every time we have a lockdown drill, I’m like, 'this can be real. This can be it,'” she told ABC15.
What should be a sanctuary for learning has turned into what those describe as a prison, breeding fear due to gun violence.
“I’m just always thinking, like, is it safer to stay home and to...miss it, or to go and risk getting shot,” added Alexander.
She says now is the time for lawmakers to start listening to students.
“How many kids have to die in a school shooting before people start to take action? I’m just frustrated, like that it keeps happening and nobody is doing anything,” said Alexander.
Until then, the teenager hopes to be that change, by creating Arizona Students for Mental Health.
“We’re 100% student-led and we’re fighting for better (mental health) resources and awareness, mostly in schools,” she told ABC15.
She's now advocating for resources she feels would help students cope with what they're going through, in an effort to prevent another tragedy.
“It’s normal for America, but it definitely shouldn’t be normal,” said Alexander.