In-Depth

“She Was Just Erased:” Widower Reflects One Year After The Shooting At Santa Fe High School

“Every day is the same. You wake up feeling the same way every day. And, again, it doesn’t get better.”

Perkins keeps a memorial cross and other tributes to his wife in their dining room.

Last September, Steve Perkins would have celebrated 29 years of marriage with his wife, Glenda Ann. Instead, he went to the cemetery where she’s buried, as he does often now. Those visits to her grave have been just one way Perkins has tried to grieve and cope with the death of his wife, since she was gunned down at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018. She was one of 10 people killed at the school, where she was a permanent substitute teacher.

“She was just erased. You know, one day she’s there and she’s just gone the next day and there was no purpose in that,” Perkins said. “I mean accidents happen. You know, illness happens. But for somebody to come just take her life and remove her from me completely? I don’t understand that.”

Last fall, Perkins and other families scarred by the shooting went to the Santa Fe school board to publicly remember their loved ones — and to try and get some answers. They felt the district wasn’t doing enough to help victims or protect against other security threats. Perkins questioned the academic performance of the district as well.

“What this tells me is Santa Fe is not providing an environment conducive to education. It’s providing just the opposite,” Perkins told the school board members. “What I want to know is why isn’t anybody held responsible for any of this? Where is the accountability?”

Over the past year, Perkins has struggled to answer some of those and other questions about the death of his wife and so many others. He sat down with News 88.7 several times over the past months, in November and again in May, to talk about life without his wife and the community’s response to the tragedy. Below is an edited version of those conversations.

Q: Do you feel like things are getting better or worse?

Perkins: No, they’re definitely getting worse. The thing is as time passes you learn to struggle with this tragedy and you do things to cope with it. But your tactics are only good for so long and then you’ve got to think of other tactics. And then you start running out of tactics and then that’s where it becomes really difficult to manage. And my main therapy when I really get upset about it is just to work until I’m exhausted.

Q: What would you say was your first coping strategy?

Perkins: Well, my first coping strategy was it was just a bad dream. And I would survive day-by-day. So denial was my first tactic. That didn’t work too long. And then my next tactic was, ‘Okay, you buried her,’ was to go out to the cemetery and sit with her. Which I still do. But you talk and she doesn’t answer back, so … 

We were husband and wife. We slept in the same bed. I could roll over and put my arm on her. You do that because you’ve done it for 30 years. And you do it and there’s nothing there. And it just kind of sinks in after a while.

Q: How would you describe Ann?

Perkins: She loved people. She loved helping people. She loved doing things for people. I mean, if anybody said, ‘Hey, you know, Can you take me out to Intercontinental [airport] because you know?’ She would drive them an hour and a half, drop off them and right back go back and pick them back [up] — didn’t bother her a bit.

Q: I understand she really loved Galveston, she really loved the ocean.

Perkins: Oh, yeah, she was definitely an island person. Any island, anything with beaches, she would gravitate to. That’s why we got all the palm trees out here. She loved palm trees. I mean, I gave her a palm tree necklace. She always wore that. At the cemetery where I found her — where we bought our plots — right next to palm trees. On her monument, palm trees. Palm trees all over for her.

Steve Perkins stands outside his home in Santa Fe. His wife, Glenda Ann, loved to travel and they made this post to mark the distance to her favorite spots.

Q: What do you think would help you in healing and recovery and having some closure?

Perkins: Well, obviously, bringing justice would be tremendous. The other thing is I still don’t know anything about Ann in terms of how many times she was shot. Did she suffer? You know, all of the things that occurred on that day are completely locked away. We can’t get to it. That would give me tremendous closure, if I had some of those answers.

Q: And why can’t you get this information?

Perkins: Apparently, the [Galveston County] district attorney decided that any information that would be leaked out — I can’t even see the video recordings. I can’t even see that. He’s locked everything down, you know, prior to this trial.

Q: Because of the Texas public records laws, he has that authority?

Perkins: I guess he feels like the defense for the shooter would use that to their advantage in terms of swaying people, juries.

Q: What does that information vacuum or blockade mean to you?

Perkins: Well, it’s horrendous. I mean, in a car accident, you know how the accident occurred and if there was a health issue, you know that it was cancer. You know all of these things. This is just, you know, ‘Yeah, your wife’s dead, sorry! And we’ll let you know in a couple of years what happened.’

What I want is I want him tried and I want the key thrown away. I want him to stay wherever they’re going to put him and until he dies of whatever causes, he’s there. So I don’t want any chance of appeal. I don’t want anything so I’m glad they changed the venue [of the trial].

Steve Perkins addressed the Santa Fe school board last September, along with other grieving families who felt the district was doing too little to help victims recover and to prevent future security threats.

Q: What about the school district? How do you think the Santa Fe school district has handled the aftermath of this crisis, this tragedy?

Perkins: Very poorly. Very poorly. To me, it’s evident they just want to sweep it under the rug and business as usual. And, you know, some of the people in there that didn’t enforce dress codes and things of that nature should be held accountable.

Q: When you say that you think the Santa Fe school district has handled this ‘poorly, very poorly.’ Why do you say that?

Perkins: It’s just their arrogance, I guess. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s their arrogance and their inability to admit that, you know, the school has a problem. It may not have been totally of their making. It may be all of their making. We don’t know. We’re going to find out.

Q: Would you want to see a commission like they had after [the school shooting in] Parkland in Florida, where they look at what happened?

Perkins: What I want is accountability, okay? And if the commission helps in getting the accountability, then yes. What I don’t want, though, is a commission set up with a bunch of the board members investigating themselves.

Q: With the anniversary right around the corner, how are you feeling about this one year mark?

Perkins: Well, you know, every day is the same. You wake up feeling the same way every day. And, again, it doesn’t get better. So, to me, it’s just another day on the calendar. Yes, it’s the year mark. But to me, it’s no different than any other day.

Q: Have you thought about how you’re going to spend that day? What you would like to do? Or do you think you’ll get busy and try to distract yourself?

Perkins: Probably so. I doubt I would want to be around here. There’s a lot of functions, vigils and things going on. And, you know, I don’t want to be disrespectful. But on the other side of the coin, it’s difficult enough to deal with everything without having people from a year ago come up and tell you how sorry they were and I know they are. But, you know, it’s just the constant reminder.

I’m kind of like my own little island. I’m not with the rest of parents that are grieving. I’m a spouse that’s grieving and I’m the only spouse that’s grieving. There’s nobody else here but me. So I’m a little bit of a different animal, if you know what I mean.

A memorial cup and flag in honor of Ann Perkins, one of 10 people killed at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018.

Share

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

More Information