I’ve debated all day whether or not to post about this. For some reason, I feel like it’s not my story to tell. Like I’m the second cousin-in-law of some perished celebrity, selling their first tooth to TMZ. Then again, it feels a little bigger than me. Bigger than one story on a duckling blog. And I want to capture and honor and shout out to the people who managed to turn a tragedy into a sense of hope, if only for me.
Per usual, I was running late to work and had to park on the far side of campus. The side that has me solidly plugging my iPod buds into my ears as I begin the 15 minute trek to my office. My goal was to get there with minimal sweat pools at the base of my pants and bra strap. Not a challenge with the surprising briskness of the morning. I wondered if I should stop and get some breakfast. I mean, I’m already late, so what’s a couple more minutes as I stop to pick up a breakfast taco. Or cereal. Or cereal and breakfast taco. While the culinary debate waged on in my head, I noticed a police cruiser flip on his lights, make a quick U-turn, and zip down the street. Followed by 2 more cars.
“Breakfast taco!”, I thought.
My ignorance was bliss.
My cell phone vibrated, no doubt a return from a message I’d left for my new employer. It can wait, I surmised, and ignored the call. Only it wasn’t it call. It was a text message from the university’s emergency warning system alerting students, faculty, and staff of the suspected shooting at the library. Only, the message must not have filtered to the dining hall as I purchased my breakfast taco with no fanfare or discussion from the cashier. As I walked toward my office, I saw this:
Yellow crime scene tape and police cars with swirling sirens surrounding the library. I took out my iPod and decided it is a good time to head to my office. Only I never made it. Police officers outside of the Gregory Gym urged us to get inside for safety. Now! So, I trotted inside with the rest of the faculty, students, and staff who were corralled there for safety. Gregory Gym’s front is all glass with a perpendicular view to the library, but the police presence and the organization of the gym’s staff made it all seem…OK. Safe. Like everyone else, I took to my Blackberry. Texted my colleagues, updated Facebook, called My Dad.
Me: Hi, Dad. How are you?
My Dad: Well our flight last night was delayed and I hate it when the airlines don’t just tell you the truth about WHY they’re delayed they just make you wait and wait and wa-
Me: Hey, Dad, did you hear anything about the shooting on campus.
My Dad: No. So your brother was flying in the same direction but HIS flight-
Me: Dad, what part of “shooting on campus” didn’t register with you?
My Dad: You mean NOW? Holy shit! Why didn’t you stop me? Let me turn on the TV now….there’s nothing about it!
Me: Try CNN or MSNBC. They’ve closed captioned the TVs in the gym, so we are not getting any news in here.
He finds it on CNN. Makes sure I am OK. We talk a bit about his experience during 9/11. I tell him I wanted to contact him in case the phone lines get jammed now like they did then. He thanks me. Tells me to locate a janitor’s closet, as the doors tend to be steel. Makes me promise to run if the idiot comes into the gym. I assure him that, with the police presence, it’s the safest place to be.
And it is. Because, unlike being in a windowless room, we can see everything going on outside. We see SWAT arrive. Tanks. Men in camouflage. The calvary is here. I stop my mind from going down what-if lane by talking to students. Are you signed up for the emergency texts? Did you get ahold of your parents? No cell service? Try posting on Facebook. Want to use my phone?
Side note: VERIZON WIRELESS KICKS CELL SERVICE ASS! I had no dropped calls, received all my texts, and had no problems posting to Facebook. Verizon is worth every freaking penny of their overpriced service.
By now, there are no strangers. No roles. I sit with students who have laptops streaming news stations. I give one of them my breakfast taco. Text another’s mother on his behalf and assure her that her son is being a model of bravery and calm. Because I’m pretty sure that’s what My Dad would want to hear. We tell jokes. Laugh when reporters say stupid things.
Reporter 1: How many people does the library hold?
Reporter 2: Since you went to UT, you’d probably know better than me.
Journalism fail, ladies.
Gregory Gym staff bring lobby chairs for us to sit on. Open the store in case we need something to eat. Give announcements with updates, though there are little. They were all calm, sweet, and walked the space with an ease that helped bring solitude and camaraderie relative strangers. Until this:
We were moved to the second floor of the gym.
Once on the second floor, we were separated into males and females for a search. The officer assured us that they were only looking to secure the area relative to the shooting so if anyone had any *ahem* paraphernalia, they would get a one-time reprieve from penalty. One male student stood up. Everyone laughed. Searches commenced.
After that, it was a lot of waiting. News reports were contradictory and fledgling, at best. They were grasping at straws to feed the news cycle monster and started interviewing people with less and less information. The police, even in full Kevlar, helmets, and armed; were very patient answering questions. No matter how asinine. They fielded everything from where’s the bathroom to when are we going to be released to when will I get my hunting knife back.
It wasn’t until we were released and urged to go straight home that I realized how coordinated our protection was.
A college community is a bit like a marriage– sometimes you don’t see how strong you are together until you are in the midst of adversity. Even though the campus directory always has my email listed incorrectly, students sometimes grate a gal’s nerves, and I don’t always agree with the decisions that are made; none of that occurred to me during those 5 hours . Five hours that could have been harrowing, anxiety-ridden, and just plain scary, weren’t.
As I said, this is one story. A story that was safely tucked away from observing the gunman walking past or hearing the first shots or wondering if my loved ones were in harm’s way. So I hope you remember that before you admonish me for finding a silver lining in this grumbling dark rain cloud.
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