Four years before 19 fourth graders and two teachers were shot and killed inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Jason Seaman was teaching his second period class at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana, when a student walked into the room and opened fire, shooting him and one other student.
“I didn’t even look up — I was still helping another student with a question — and that’s when he opened fire,” Seaman, 33, told TODAY Parents. “At first, I thought someone had hit me in the side, like as a joke; a slap in the stomach. Then I looked up and saw that he was pointing a gun right at us.”
Once Seaman realized he had been shot by a student, he says his “thoughts turned off” and he “just reacted.” He was holding a 9-inch carnival basketball in his hand — he says he “fidgets” with it when his students are taking tests — and threw the ball at the shooter.
“When he ducked to get out of the way, that’s when I ran and pushed him against the whiteboard, then tackled him to the ground,” he added. “I had him on his stomach and pinned down his arms. He had no chance to do anything.”
Seaman says that’s when he screamed for his kids to get out of the classroom and call 911.
“This all happened by the door,” he explained. “They had to go by him to get out.”
One student, Ella Whistler, had also been shot. Instinctually, Seaman wanted to go to her — he could see her laying behind the table — but knew that if he did he would have to let the shooter go.
“That was the hardest part for me,” Seaman said. “I knew I couldn’t help her. Thankfully, teachers in the hall had come and helped and the nurse got up there super fast. I believe she actually disregarded protocol — I don’t think she was supposed to get there before the all-clear.”
Once others helped and secured the gunman, Seaman says everything happened quickly. Police officers, ambulance crews and other emergency personnel arrived, and Seaman was quickly transported to the hospital.
“I had exploratory surgery to make sure that I didn’t have any internal bleeding,” Seaman added. “Teachers that were still in the building had to deal with evacuation and pickup and the kids had to deal with getting transported to a different school, then bus routes and a whole bunch of other mess.”
‘Good people stand up to do what’s right when the moment arises’
The shooting at Robb Elementary School took place the day before the four year anniversary of the shooting at Seaman’s school. His wife asked him if he planned on going to work the following day. For Seaman, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation — he’d be in the same classroom he was in when he was shot, teaching his students.
“That’s my job,” Seaman said. “Me showing up on the anniversary is me saying, ‘You know what, it’s a normal day. Something bad happened, but this is my life and I have control over it.’ And that message can resonate with somebody who is going through something. I don’t ignore it. I don’t run from it. But I’m not going to let it control me.”
As Seaman learns more about the reported botched law enforcement response to the shooting in Uvalde, he says “it makes me angry more than anything.”
For 77 minutes, law enforcement officers waited outside the classroom where 19 children and two teachers were killed, and more were injured. During that time, teachers and children inside the classroom called 911 for help.
“Good people stand up to do what’s right when the moment arises,” Seaman said. “They don’t think about it. They just know: ‘This the right thing to do and I have to do it.’ The whole law enforcement response, that was really just disheartening to me. This is a profession you chose to do, and you understood that fully when you you signed on that dotted line and you got your badge. They abandoned that responsibility, and little kids where just obliterated.”
Seaman can’t help but think of his own situation four years earlier, and what would have happened if officers didn’t come into his classroom immediately.
“Ella 100% would have died,” he explained. “I would have had to make a choice between leaving the gunman alone or going to help Ella — or doing something drastic with the gunman and then helping. Those are choices that teachers should never be forced to pick from.”
Seaman also thinks of the teachers — both Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, who were killed, as well as Arnulfo Reyes, who survived the shooting after he was shot twice. Reyes told ABC News that he tells the parents of the 11 children who died in his classroom “I’m sorry. I tried my best, what I was told to do. Please don’t be angry with me.”
“The overwhelming majority of teachers are going to do what’s best for kids no matter what, regardless of the circumstances or outcome, ” Seaman said. “You can never be 100%, that’s just the grim reality of it.”
While Seaman says he wasn’t surprised to hear of another school shooting, he is hopeful that something will change after President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law — the first piece of legislation aimed at curbing gun violence in 30 years.
“I love it as a good starting point,” he said. “Everybody wants the same thing, and that’s for children to be safe. And if politicians can get out of their own mud-puddle and start actually putting people first, there can be meaningful change.”
In Seaman’s case, the shooter will have a juvenile record and, once he turns 18, it will be sealed. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act requires “enhanced background checks for people ages 18 to 21” — a change that could keep the student who shot Seaman and another classmate from purchasing a firearm in the future.
“If you actively try to hurt somebody, especially try to kill somebody, you shouldn’t get a weapon that’s designed to do just that,” Seaman said. “So, it’s definitely a starting point. There’s obviously a long way to go.”