DELPHOS, Ohio — The day after a gunman killed 17 students and staff at a Florida high school, Ohio schoolteacher Marissa Schimmoeller was particularly emotional.
It was the first time Schimmoeller, a first-year English language arts teacher at Delphos Jefferson High School in Delphos, had to face her students in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy. And she knew the question she dreaded most would come.
Soon after class began, it did, Schimmoeller shared in a Facebook post later that afternoon.
“Mrs. Schimmoeller,” a freshman girl asked. “What will we do if a shooter comes in your room?”
Schimmoeller, who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, wrote that her stomach sank as she began her planned speech about the plan in place in the event of an active shooter. Then came the hardest part.
"I want you to know that I care deeply about each and every one of you and that I will do everything I can to protect you," Schimmoeller wrote that she told her students. "But, being in a wheelchair, I will not be able to protect you the way an able-bodied teacher will. And if there is a chance for you to escape, I want you to go. Do not worry about me. Your safety is my number one priority."
The students were silent for a few moments as her words sank in, Schimmoeller wrote. Then another student raised her hand.
"Mrs. Schimmoeller, we already talked about it. If anything happens, we are going to carry you," the girl said, according to Schimmoeller.
Schimmoeller said she “lost it” when she realized that her students already had their own plan in place to protect her.
"With tears in my eyes as I type this, I want my friends and family to know that I understand that it is hard to find the good in the world, especially after a tragedy like the one that we have watched unfold, but there is good. True goodness," the teacher wrote. "It was found in the hearts of my students today."
Schimmoeller’s post almost immediately went viral, with more than 25,000 people sharing it on their own pages. Since then, the 24-year-old teacher has done interviews with media from Ohio to Ireland.
Schimmoeller told "Today" that she felt the need to tell her story because she knew that other people shared her anger over the violence they were witnessing and needed a reminder that good exists in the world.
"When I was in front of those amazing kids as they told me they would carry me out of our building if, God forbid, we were faced with a situation like the one in Florida, it occurred to me that every child, every one of my students, is so full of light and goodness," Schimmoeller said.
Schimmoeller also did an interview with Cork's 96FM in Cork, Ireland, in which she spoke about her disability and how it played into the fear surrounding school shootings.
"I think students are a little on edge, especially with the violence in Florida and it being shared on social media through videos of the survivors, and I think the fear is a real one," Schimmoeller said in the interview.
She said, however, that she wrote her Facebook post to focus instead on the goodness and positivity she sees at work every day. She said she initially worried about whether she could be an effective teacher from a wheelchair, but that her students are always willing to help her by passing out papers to the class or writing on the board.
Schimmoeller said that in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, she pondered how she would make her students feel safe when she feared her own limitations.
"I realized that, my freshmen especially being new to this building, we should review the … training we've all undergone. I also wanted to make clear to them that I would do everything in my power to keep them safe," Schimmoeller said. "Because ultimately, I think some of their instinct was to protect me, being that I am in a more vulnerable position."
She said she wanted students to know that their first instinct should be to see to their own safety.
“I’m sure that my co-workers and staff at the school would keep me safe, but it was up to me to make sure that (the students) knew that my priority was their safety,” she said. “And if worse comes to worse, I wanted them to leave me because their safety is more important than my own.”
She told the students she would die for them, and went over with them ways in which they could use her chair's wheels as weapons against an armed intruder, Schimmoeller told the radio station.
Regarding her students’ reaction to her speech, Schimmoeller said she was overcome by their willingness to risk themselves to save her.
"I started to cry when I thought about how incredible it is that these young people who I've known only since August were willing to do that for me," she said.
Schimmoeller said her first-period students were not the only ones to show compassion that day. She gave the same talk in all of her classes, and one student offered to give her a “piggyback ride” if need be.
Other students said it would not be OK if anything happened to her.
"I had one student say, 'Well, Mrs. Schimmoeller, nothing can happen to you," she said. The world needs more Mrs. Schimmoellers. Who's going to be there to teach kids like me?"
“And that really touched my heart, and I think that’s what drove me to write the Facebook post.”
The public’s response to Schimmoeller’s viral post was worldwide, with commenters praising the young teacher for the inspiration she is to her students.
“There are teachers that make a difference in our children’s lives, and you most surely are one of them,” one woman wrote. “Thank you from a parent in Missouri.”
“Marissa, you are an amazing teacher to be able to inspire your student,” a man wrote. “Fantastic. Touched our hearts down here in Australia. Keep up your great work.”
Others praised the students.
“Way to go, DJHS students,” another woman wrote. “A testament to you, your families and your teacher. Thanks for reminding the world that we should take care of each other.”
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