Today was an interesting day. Surreal. We woke up and got Emily off to school as usual. Met friends for coffee after drop-off, and Tom joined us for a while as he sometimes does on Fridays. Then I came home and hopped on the computer for a few minutes to check on a few things before I started in on the ever-growing mound of paperwork I needed to get to today. Just after 10:30, the phone rang. It was our dear friends who had just driven past what will be Emily’s high school next year. There was some pretty heavy police activity there, guns drawn, they said, and they were wondering if I knew anything. So I started to look it up on the computer for them, when an email came in from my daughter’s school (which is a few blocks down the street from the high school) stating that her middle school was on a Code Red lockdown because there was a possible suspect seen on or near her campus with a gun.
And so began a very long and frightening two and a half hours. The reports that were coming out gave conflicting information. I understand the media all wanting to be first to break a news story, but it is extremely difficult for frightened parents (some of whom had kids at all three schools that were coded by this), students, and teachers to be bombarded with information stating there’s an armed man on a middle school campus; oh, but wait, actually he was seen running from the school and he’s in your neighborhood, so be on the lookout and lock all your doors; but oh no, he might be out in the shed on the athletic field on campus. Meanwhile, our children are holed up behind barricades they built in darkened, silent classrooms. Toward the end it seemed like things were escalating quickly, and the sheer number of helicopters hovering overhead was stunning, but in a strange way also comforting because Emily was texting me about hearing the very same helicopters just a few blocks away. And then just as suddenly as it began, it was all over. The student who had initially told the front office that he had seen the gunman recanted his story.
Parents were allowed to immediately pick up their kids, so I took my baby girl and we went out to lunch. And what she told me at lunch, creating a map for me of her classroom with french fries on a kids’ menu, had me fighting tears. She explained how they heard the Code Red alarm, and they were wondering at first if it was real or just another drill. But very soon it became apparent it was not a drill as they were able to get information online and the school was crawling with police with guns drawn. Emily told me how she and her classmates and their teacher systematically built barricades inside their room. They considered possible lines of sight of the shooter and barricaded the doors and windows, and then they built a wall blocking out a corner of the classroom for them all to sit behind. They then huddled on the floor together behind their makeshift barricade with books to cover their heads, whispering quietly in the darkness. Their teacher, who is a hero to me, sat in front of the barricade and told the children that he would do his best to keep them safe if the gunman entered the room and to try not to worry; that he would try to fight him off. Emily said they were all scared and some of them wanted to cry, but at the same time he kept their spirits up, even making them laugh at times. (And I am sure his story was just one of many of great heroism that unfolded at her school today.)
I can’t believe our daughter is growing up in a world where she is so matter-of-fact about the need to understand about a potential shooter’s line of sight, and about how to barricade herself into a classroom. That she would ever be in a situation where the click of the ceiling fan coming on overhead would make her heart beat faster until the moment she remembered it was just the same fan she hears every school day. That she and her classmates would ever sit in their classroom looking proudly at the awesome barricades they made together to protect themselves from a potential killer. Where a teacher would need to sit in front of his students contemplating what he could possibly do to keep them safe should a gunman enter his room.
But at the same time I am grateful to be living in a world where there are heroes. And where there is technology that kept me sane: Photography friends I’ve never even met rallied around me on Facebook, and through texting and cell phones, friends and family near and far kept me company while I waited helplessly for news. My sister kept me texting and busy throughout while keeping my phone line open, and my sister-in-law called from New York after it was over to commiserate with me about the scary world we live in and how glad she was that everything was all right (and she mentioned too that she has found hot fudge sundaes paired with champagne make everything better!). To all of them I am so deeply grateful. And I am grateful too for this community we live in and for the staff at my daughter’s wonderful school who rallied together in a calm and orderly fashion to keep our children safe. (Her school has even lined up counselors to be on campus next week for any students or staff who remain anxious!)
I can’t imagine what could have been going on in the mind of the child who started this. I hope he will get the help he needs. And once again my heart goes out to parents for whom a story like this was not just a hoax, whose children with their teachers really did face this terror, and in many cases didn’t survive. I can’t even imagine the horror. We got a happy ending, and for that I will be forever grateful.
And I can’t even think of a photo that would be appropriate to include here, so for my first time ever, I will just sign off without including an image.