If you think gunshots, school lockdowns, and security are not an issue in your quiet suburban community, think again. Last week, just four blocks from our house, a school district police officer was shot on a street adjacent to the high school. It was surreal at the time and now, one week later, unreal. The incident occurred at 11:30 in the morning and all the schools – elementary, middle school, and high school, approximately 15 schools in all – went on lockdown immediately, unbeknownst to me and any parent not within sight or sound of a TV or radio for most of the workday. I found out about it at 3:40 pm when my husband called to say that he couldn’t pick up the kids because a five square mile radius around our house was blocked off with police tape. Deep breath. Don’t panic. Call the school. Sure enough, the school was on lockdown. The office manager informed me that the school and the street were accessible and parents were allowed to walk into the campus through a secure gate to pick up their children, who would be escorted out individually by a teacher or aide. I felt confident that my children were safe at school, but still, I went to pick them up right away.
The parents and children at the public schools were not so lucky. The lockdown lasted until after dark. At the middle school, parents waited in line for 3-4 hours to retrieve their children from the day long captivity. A friend’s daughter was in P.E. that morning and stayed in the gym in her gym attire, without a book, TV, or cell phone, all day. Kids in classrooms with TV monitors watched the news. And thank goodness for cell phones and my daughter’s refusal to turn in her phone to the school office that morning. Around 4 pm she texted me that she wasn’t scared, she was safe, and as soon as they could move, they would join her sister and the other elementary kids in the auditorium. That was more than I had heard from the school. No one from the school notified parents until 5:18 p.m., at which time my children, my husband, and I were happily enjoying dinner at McDonalds.
The entire 5 square mile area that was cordoned off was pitch dark. News helicopters and police helicopters with eerie giant searchlights loomed overhead. We went to a friend’s house, not knowing if we’d make it home at all that night. Around 9 pm, I made a reservation at a nearby hotel but on our way to the hotel, we passed our street and it had opened up just minutes before. Grateful to be home, I poured a glass of wine and let the kids watch TV until about 10 pm, long past their usual bedtime. The kids wanted to sleep in our bed that night and they had no trouble falling asleep after all the day’s excitement. I slept well until 2 a.m. when I heard the wind against our windows and the back gate fly open. I was too scared to run outside and lock the back gate, yet I didn’t want to admit my fear to my husband who was sound asleep in another room. I stayed up all night, listening to the kids breathe and the back gate slam open and shut, and I was reminded of a picture in a children’s book of a Mama bear watching over her cubs.
One might think that the situation has caused us to reevaluate where and how we live, but it hasn’t. It has caused us to re-examine taking away our daughter’s cell phone as a punishment and the school’s policy of not allowing children to keep possession of their cell phones during school hours. More importantly, I have a renewed sense that I am where I am meant to be, whether it’s at work, on a dinner date with my husband, playing Barbie with my 5 year old, having a spa day for myself, or laying awake in bed at night, watching and listening as my cubs sleep peacefully in my bed.