April 13, 2015
Today started like any other day. Any other Monday. Slow and tired, begging to go back to sleep.
Today I left pretty much on time but took my time getting to work. I just wasn’t in a hurry even though I knew I would be a couple minutes late.
Today I pulled in the driveway like any other work day. Grabbed my bag out of the car. Locked the doors and made my short walk to the building.
Today I greeted my co-workers, asked briefly about their weekends, and unlocked my office door. Plugged in my computer and completed a couple habitual tasks before sitting down to begin my day. At 8:07 a.m. I texted my husband to let him know that I was safe at work. About 8:10 I called my supervisor to respond to her voicemail.
Then we heard the tones from the PA system. It sounded like someone was trying to speak on the system but we could not tell what they were saying. We both commented how odd it was that they were going off when we had no notice of a test. We hung up and I checked my phone for the text message that I thought was my husband.
The campus is on lockdown. This is not a drill.
I stepped outside my office and noticed the sounds of sirens…very close… I noticed that there was no movement. I stepped back in, closed the door and turned off the light. I texted an office mate to see where they were and decided to move up to the testing lab at the front of our office suite with the rest of the office mates.
When I rounded the corner to head to the front, I saw 3 armored officers with guns drawn moving quickly down the hallway in the triangle formation that I have seen so many times in the “active shooter scenario” videos we watched at the beginning of the school year.
I realized in that brief moment, that there was only one reason they would be drawn like that. We had a shooter on campus.
In the next 10 steps to the door, I wondered if all the scenarios I had seen unfold on other school and college campuses in the last several years was now about to unfold on our campus. Right here at home. I dismissed it as quickly. I’m not sure if it was an attempt at self preservation, denial, or naivety.
We sat in our dark little room and chatted, texted, face booked and for what seemed like hours, we grasped at whatever information the outside world could give us through the screen of our cell phones.
We learned that an employee had been shot and possibly killed, the entire campus was locked down tight, 3 branches of law enforcement including several city government officials were present and combining efforts. We read words on the internet like “second shooter,” “multiple victims,” “hostage situation,” “tear gas,” “on the run.” I texted my family to let them know I was OK and that I would update them as I received information. My mom became my lifeline to the outside world. I started texting my friends on campus to check on their status and to receive any information they could give.
The worst thing about being in a “lock down” is not the protocol itself, it’s the unknown. It’s thirsting for information but not knowing what information to believe. It’s being on the verge of going to that place in your mind where the worst outcomes lie; that dark place you don’t talk about out loud. That “what if…” place. It’s knowing that if you panic there is a good chance that people who are depending on your stability are going to panic too. It’s knowing what damage panic can do.
After what seemed like days, a group of officers pounded on our door. They identified themselves and said we were being evacuated from the building. It’s strange to walk out of a dark room into the daylight where 7 armored police officers are crouched in defense mode with guns drawn and yelling directions in what seems like another language.
We all walked out as a group to join the rest of the people who had made it to the lawn. There was a quick headcount and a check in with colleagues…then a phone call home.
I’m not an emotional person. I can usually keep it in check but when he said, “hello” every emotion I had been suppressing for the last 2 hours burst through the barrier. I couldn’t speak or breathe. I stood there in a sea of people, my friends, colleagues, and students, and gasped for air. I felt like I was sinking into the vastness of the ocean, the weight of miles and miles of water compressing my body, and the harder I struggled to swim upward, the deeper the weights on my legs dragged me down.
Most of what came next was a blur. I remember being told to leave if we could. I remember realizing that all I had was a cell phone. I remember my friend’s voice telling me to get in the car, and hearing my husband’s voice say, “I’m on the way.” I remember whispering a “Praise God” seeing a slow motion picture of a husband, a colleague, walking across the parking lot to an open armed wife and her near collapse at the relief of realizing he was OK. I remember the line of traffic backed up on The road leading to campus and the string of cars exiting the grounds as law enforcement cleared us to leave. I remember the faces of the patrons at Hardee’s as a shellshocked group of college employees walked in and sat down. Then I saw SWAT from a neighboring county and what looked like a wave of reinforcements headed toward campus as we were heading away and I realized that it still was not over.
As I sat there in the Hardee’s, I felt the heaviness of survivor’s guilt. I felt like I should still be on campus with the ones who were left. Just like family, we do not always agree, do not always get along, but they are my family. I felt the weight of losing a family member today. A senseless tragedy that could have and should have been avoided.
When we got home, there was a bright shining little face buried in cartoons, oblivious to the drama that was continuing to unfold just a few miles away. I was glad that he was unaware. I was glad that he was still innocent if only for one more day. All too soon he will learn of the atrocities committed by human kind on one another and when he does, there is no going back. So let him stay in this place as long as he can.
I watched the news updates and grasped at whatever information they would give. I said a prayer for our lost loved one. I said a prayer for the shooter. I said a prayer for our campus, our students, our employees, our administration. I said a prayer for law enforcement and everything they did today to keep us safe.
Tomorrow, we begin again. That’s the thing about the dawn. Yesterday is done and the scars remain but with the dawn comes renewal. Another chance to begin again. We will recover and we will heal. As a family, we will begin again because we have to. Because we can’t let evil win. We cannot label ourselves as victims but instead define ourselves as victorious. Our loss today is incredibly painful, made more so by the senselessness of it all. The hole will be there, campus will look different in the morning, our duties and tasks will be different in the morning, but we must keep moving. We must keep fighting. We must honor his memory. We must begin again.