Molly Hudgens will return to Chattanooga next week to recount how she helped prevent a school shooting
Maria Latham / Molly Hudgens photo is the first ever Tennessee recipient and only the tenth female recipient of the Citizens’ Medal of Honor awarded by the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2017.
Molly Hudgens, a consultant and sole recipient of the Medal of Honor of Congressional Medal of Honor in Tennessee, took about 30 minutes to give the abstract of the day she stopped a middle school student with a gun from shooting the school.
What she did with the 14-year-old in those 90 minutes to persuade him to let her take the 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol and rounds of ammo around his ankle is heroic enough, but it’s what she’s been doing for the 18 years did years up to this Wednesday at Sycamore Middle School in Pleasant View, Tennessee, near Nashville that likely saved countless lives.
Hudgens will return to Chattanooga and the Charles Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center on Saturday, February 20 to promote her book, “Saving the Sycamore Maple: The School Shooting That Never Happened” and the one year anniversary of the museum to celebrate.
On September 18, 2016, Hudgens was in her office at around 7:30 a.m. when a student she had counseled last Friday walked in and said he needed a chat afterwards. She made sure he came back later that morning. He was back just after eight and said he didn’t think he could wait.
“Within 15 minutes I knew something was very wrong,” she said. “His eyes were nervous and darted around the room. I felt dizzy and thought I might pass out.
“He said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you that I’m sure you’ve never heard before.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been here a long time, so maybe I have.’ “
Then he showed her the gun, which was holstered around his ankle.
“I said, ‘Let me take this and we can talk.'”
Scared as she was, Hudgens said she had been preparing for such an event for 18 years.
Her first year of apprenticeship was in 1999, a year that culminated in six major shooting incidents with mass murders at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two school seniors killed 12 students and a teacher that year, and the tragedies agreed with Hudgens that she would devote her life to being a counselor rather than a teacher, particularly researching school shootings.
“I left the classroom in 2009 and went to counseling. I believe it was God’s hand. I researched everything I could find about school shootings.”
She also chose to stay in middle school instead of high school because she said that old age is especially tough and she believes that then they need help.
“If you have problems or hear voices, I want you to come to me so we can intervene while you are young enough to help.”
When you go
* What: Lecture and book signing with Molly Hudgens
* Where: Charles H. Coolidge National Center for Medal of Honor, 2 Aquarium Way, Suite 104
* When: Saturday, February 20th, 2pm
* Phone: 423-877-2525
She created a training program on recognizing red flags and the role of the educator in recognizing the potential for violence in school. She said children need help everywhere, even in a small town like Pleasant View.
“I believed it could be possible here, and here it happened. I couldn’t believe it.”
Hudgens believes many things happened by that morning that helped prevent another shooting-related tragedy at the school. She also believes that the same activities have had positive outcomes for the young man, school, and community afterward.
“Here we focus on physical health first, then mental health, and then we teach,” she said.
She believes the school created an environment that not only encouraged students to speak to their teachers and counselors, but also encouraged students to raise their hands when they saw a classmate in need. The week before the incident, Hudgens led a class on how life can make a difference.
“When you see someone in need, reach out and help,” she told them. “There may be a time when the person who needs help is you.”
On Friday of that week in 2016, a student approached Hudgens about a friend who needed help. She looked for him and they talked.
“He was very busy and I just listened for almost 45 minutes.”
He came back with the gun that Wednesday.
“I think he came to me first because we were talking, but he had obviously been thinking about it all weekend and Monday and Tuesday and still felt like he had to deal with it.”
Hudgens said after the student said he could not give up the gun, she walked over and knelt beside him and crossed her hand with his right hand.
“I knew he was left-handed and that if he wanted to shoot me it had to be with his left hand.”
She stayed that way for most of the 90 minutes and they both talked and cried and cried more.
Then she did something she still thinks about a lot.
“I said, ‘God has a plan for you.’ He immediately stiffened and asked if I believe God has a plan. “
Immediately she thought, “‘Why did I do that? He’s going to shoot me now.'”
Hudgens said she knew from her research that the mention of God and religion can be a trigger for people to feel at the end of their rope.
Hudgens didn’t tell what problems the young man was having but said he wasn’t bullied and his reason for bringing the gun was not to get revenge, but he clearly had some demons telling him it was something To shoot people at his school he had to do.
“He said, ‘Do you know how many times I’ve asked God for help and he hasn’t?'”
But, said Hudgens, her next thought was about the apostle Peter and his refusal to know Jesus, “and I knew I wouldn’t deny it.”
Her next thought is something that pops up during her many lectures across the country, especially in the north and Texas, she said when speaking to public school staff.
“I was afraid I would lose my job because I mentioned God and religion, but I prayed the warmest prayer of my life with him. I thank God that he brought him and me to this school. We have all the time cried with closed eyes.
“We have a separation of church and state, and we know it. It is not legal to pray unless it is initiated by students or directed by students.”
She said the subject only came up once after the shooting when a school clerk simply said, “Molly, I don’t care what you did, you’ve saved many lives.”
Afterward, the young man noticed a medal Hudgens had received for running a marathon and asked about it. She told him that she liked to run and that kneeling was hard on her knees. He asked her to sit down, but she said, “I won’t until you give me the gun.”
“When I held his hand, we were just talking. He understood that he was already in trouble. He believed that if he didn’t go through with the shooting, there would be more trauma for him.”
Hudgens said she suggested that the gun be taken from him so he wouldn’t have to voluntarily give it up. That seemed to calm him down, and she got the gun and bullets and locked them in a filing cabinet.
She took her place and managed to send texts to the school’s resource officer, who arrived calmly and led the young man out safely without anyone else knowing what had happened.
Hudgens said what has happened since that day makes her prouder of her school and the community. Two days after the event, a student asked if the staff would discuss the problem with the students or “sweep it under the rug”.
The staff “gathered the students together and answered every question they had. They knew the student, but we asked them not to reveal him or speak about it, and they didn’t do it four years later.”
“My prayer was that he would have a second chance and not go to jail but get help, and he did. I’m proud to tell you that he graduated and has a job.”
Hudgens said averted school shootings are a rarity and, from those well known, “There’s never been one like mine. What’s different to me is what nobody’s going to touch with a 10-foot pole, and…” that’s the thing about God. ” I believe that praying with me paved the way. “
She shares this message in her conversations across the country, telling other counselors, teachers, and administrators, “There’s a child in your heart right now. Go back and talk to them right now.”
Contact Barry Courter at [email protected] or 423-757-6354.