In the wake of Monday’s shooting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which resulted in the death of one faculty member, parents of students are sharing how janitors and custodial staff played a crucial role in possibly saving their kids’ lives. “The janitor(s) at UNC Chapel Hill shut/locked the classrooms and the building off from the intruder,” a mother and professor at the school who didn’t share her name wrote on Twitter. “The janitors put their lives at risk to do this. To save my son.”
Another parent, Trent Merchant, wrote in response, “Yes. My daughter was in a neighboring building. They barricaded but could not lock the building or classroom. Maintenance came to the rescue. They were the heroes to my daughter and her classmates.”
Sharing the parent’s posts, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, pointed out the gutting reality that the burden is falling on custodians “to stand up to gunmen because GOP lawmakers won’t stand up to the gun industry.” And while janitors are reportedly putting their lives on the line amid seemingly unending campus shootings in a country overrun by endemic gun violence, per some estimates, the salary range of the average UNC Chapel Hill janitor sits between $32,000 per year and $18 per hour (about $37,000 annually). It’s a textbook case of the lowest paid workers being placed in a position to take on the greatest responsibility—in this case, to literally risk their lives.
It’s an untenable demand to make of anyone, however much they’re paid. But it’s especially outrageous that while exorbitantly wealthy Republican lawmakers obstruct life-saving gun safety laws during every session, janitors are risking their lives to protect students. In March, North Carolina Republicans passed a bill to make it easier to bring a gun on school campuses. In July, the U.S. surpassed 400 mass shootings so far this year.
The janitors’ courage is also being compared to the fatal inaction of police officers in Uvalde, Texas, who waited for over an hour to enter an elementary school being terrorized by a gunman last May—and even arrested and assaulted parents who tried to enter the school themselves.
A suspect at UNC Chapel Hill was arrested three hours after initial reports of shots fired on campus on Monday, per the Associated Press, leaving students and faculty locked down in a state of terror for much of the afternoon. The university has since identified the suspect as a graduate student, and the victim as his physics professor.