The last moment Phillip Adams spent with his kids after a school shooting

Written by Lisa Hession, CNN

In the days after the most recent school shooting, a man who knew Phillip Adams took to Facebook to call for better gun control. The post was memorialized in an Instagram video, which went viral.

Phillip Adams was a young photographer known for his smooth self-deprecation. (Ooo la la.)

In 2015, as news broke about an elementary school shooting in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, the images Adams took on his camera that day don’t hold up particularly well.

He’d just got out of rehab for a severe case of depression, which he says in his Instagram post he suffered from since he was 8 years old. His 40th birthday was coming up — “my definition of 30” — and even being sober on his birthday week seemed a bit surreal.

“Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been nearly every doctor you can name,” he wrote on Facebook in the days after the school shooting. “Long-term monitoring of the meds I take, and an a/c/drug of your choice.”

Adams had been drinking, though he says he did everything to keep it under control, like taking dozens of pills, sleeping too much and finding vodka out of his mother’s liquor cabinet. When the day of the shooting came, he slipped out of his room and went to the schools.

“I found kids playing in the courtyard, wearing bullet-proof vests,” he later wrote. “Some teachers were just sitting in cars, kids jumping on their cars, talking with each other. It was clear that there was something larger going on.”

Adams didn’t photograph much. He says in the Instagram post that in six years he’d never been to a real school. So he went inside the buildings and snapped as many pictures as he could.

“All over Saginaw, we piled in cars and headed home,” he wrote. “I didn’t take much of anything, but I said goodbye to a little more than 200 children before leaving.”

‘Those were my kids’

For people whose children are at schools, and now for parents of people whose kids are at schools, there’s a sense of deja vu. There was another shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, and an Ohio high school and elementary school shooting in April 2016. And last month, again at the Oakland County Career Center in Saginaw, Michigan. And in Florida this month — and this July.

New data from the Violence Policy Center , which keeps tabs on school shootings in the United States, shows 116 incidents of shooting at schools, college campuses and other “child care and education facilities” since 1982, and on average it happens about once a week. This year, more than three people died at the school level in shooting incidents. This latest attack marked the third such rampage in less than a month.

Adams was at the school that day because his two sons attend, his daughter also attends school there, and, well, his girls all go to college nearby.

“Those were my kids. Did I speak to their parents?” he asked in the Instagram post. “Did they talk to me? Did I tell them of my whereabouts? Did they know I was sick? I don’t care; they were my kids.”

After a day of shooting photos of school kids being evacuated, Adams found his parents and told them the story. He said his children’s school had been evacuated, too, in a bus, which carried into a field what he calls, “A sad shot: The child crying.”

“I came home, sobbing,” he said in the Instagram post. “My sons and my daughter want the same thing. Peace of mind.

“I am sure you know how many people die and how many others are hurt (sometimes this from the hands of their friends, sometimes not). We all know the truth.”

Adams, a photographer for 60 Minutes for 25 years, started to make that point.

“I ask the same questions to every person, more so those who are professional journalists,” he wrote. “Why does all this have to happen?”

We’ll never know if Adams would have gotten the photo he wanted from the school in his post, or if that child would have been OK. But at least we know: His 40th birthday was ruined.

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