Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Singing the Hokey Pokey while all Hell breaks loose

My two littlest kids go to a wonderful little preschool that is housed in a church on the campus of The University of Texas. The very same campus that yesterday had a gunman walk into a library and kill himself after walking several blocks and firing his AK-47 randomly.

Yesterday morning was one for the books.

I was scheduled to be the “helping parent” in Campbell’s class, which meant we had to be at school by 8:15. As I was turning across Guadalupe into the parking lot, police cars came flying down the street, lights and sirens going. It looked like something out of a movie. When we got inside, one of the school moms was standing in the entry talking about a gunman on campus.

All the parents there, myself included, immediately reached for their phones to find information online, only to be disappointed. One of the teachers turned on a radio in her class, and the morning DJs were talking about a hot sauce festival. We had no idea what was going on.

Slowly the news filtered in that there was indeed a gunman and that the campus was on “In Shelter” mode, which meant that everyone was to stay put and lock the doors. Our little school went into lockdown mode – all the doors and windows were closed and locked, the kids weren’t allowed on the playground, and two dads were stationed by the entrance to let people in and keep them in.

This meant that all the parents who were at the school to drop their kids off had to stay there. They all wandered the halls, cell phones in hand, calling and texting work and family and whomever. I sent texts to B and to some friends and took a call from my dad, who was in South Carolina listening to our local NPR station and had heard the news. He had more information on what was happening than any of us in the school did.

Our school director, who has only been on the job for a month, did an incredible job handling a stressful situation. She kept the teachers and parents informed of the latest developments and worked to make sure the kids had no idea what was going on. I could tell some of the kids in the school were picking up on their parents’ stress, but everyone in our classroom was just fine.

Things did get slightly surreal at times. Like when we were singing the “Hokey Pokey” with the kids as the campus air raid sirens were sounding. The sirens went off every half our, each time followed by a booming announcement telling people to stay indoors. At one point I was upstairs in the church kitchen washing up the snack dishes and looked out the window to see helicopters hovering at roof-top height. It was all very unnerving, to say the least.

I was amazed, though, to see a parade of students walking and biking in to campus. Apparently they hadn’t gotten the word about the University’s being shut down, although given the number of e-mails, tweets, and Facebook updates that were flying through the interwebs, I’m not sure how that’s possible. And when I watched news coverage later in the day, I was stunned at the number of gawkers hanging out on the other side of the police tape watching the action. Did they think that being on the far side of the tape made them safe somehow?

A little after noon the All Clear was sounded, and everyone at the school breathed a huge sigh of relief. The director made the decision to shut the school down for the rest of day because UT was also closed.

As stressful as it was to be at the school, too close for comfort to the action, I am grateful I was there instead of at home and not able to get to my kids. The few parents who had dropped their kids off before the lockdown must have been just frantic. I’m not sure what I would have done had I been in their position – I think I might have disobeyed the lockdown and driven to school just to be there with them. But I’ll never know.

I spent the rest of the day pretty rattled, pondering the might-have-beens of the situation and feeling profoundly grateful that everyone except the gunman was safe and sound.

And I hope to never have to go through such a situation ever again.


wendi said...

How terrifying. I watched it on the news & felt horrible for all of the parents who didn't know what was going on. So happy you're all okay.

Cheryl said...

So grateful you're all physically fine. That's an experience I just can't imagine.

donna said...

That sounds horrific, but much better for you to actually be there through the whole thing rather than be at home fearful of what could have been happening. I'm sure that its not at all what you expected when you headed off to volunteer at preschool for the day. Life certainly is full of surprises! Glad it turned out OK.

Debbie said...

I'm so glad that everything turned out okay. What an experience for a little one to have. How do you explain something like that a child?

Unknown said...

that is so scary but so god you were there.

Marinka said...

So terrifying. I can't imagine what it felt like for you. I'm very relieved that you are safe. I think that pondering the "what might have been" is inevitable and so, so jarring. I'm thinking of you.

joanna said...

I thought about you all over there when we finally heard about it later that evening. I would have wanted to have been there, too, and not sitting at work feeling helpless.

Susan said...

I agree that being there was a lucky thing. I can't imagine not being able to get information on my kids. Interesting that the campus was "shut down" but people still came onto campus so easily...

Becky said...

OMG HEATHER! Your blog is terrifying. Last time I read your hair caught on fire.

So glad it turned out OK. Well not for the dude. But ya know. Glad you are all safe.

Murr Brewster said...

Oh my! "You put your left foot in.." and you can't take it back out. Glad everything is okay now. You know--except for that jolt to security that will live in your heart for, I hope, only a little while.

ckh said...

I don't know how I missed this post. Oh my gosh!

I'm glad this one turned out to be nothing, too. And you can say that after having survived it.

Do you think you need to move somewhere safer, like Detroit?

Anonymous said...

Crazy, crazy stuff.

Do you remember when the man barricaded himself into Hillary Clinton's campaign office, before she dropped out of the Presidential campaign? He said he had a bomb strapped to his chest and held the whole damn town hostage for the day. Turns out it was just a bunch of road flares, and the man was not exactly unknown to the local police and mental health people.

That happened close enough that both of my kids were locked in to their schools, and I couldn't get to them. I was working that day, and was TERRIFIED that I would be asked to do a risk assessment. Sometimes you just don't want to have a brush with fame, ya know?

Ugh. Amen to a happy ending, and here's to some good, solid boredom for a while. No more cars jumping curbs, lockdowns, any of it. OK?