My Not-So-Funny Valentine
2/14/13 I drive my daughter to high school, as I do almost every day. After I drop her off, I turn towards my job, going back on the street that I came in on. We live in the burbs; it’s fairly safe. The local paper’s crime watch is mostly shoplifting and drunken behavior, less than 10 incidents most weeks. We have good schools with a strong music and arts program.
I see someone walking towards the school. He is dressed completely in camouflage. He has his hoodie pulled tight around his face and he puts on what appears to be an industrial strength gas mask, the type with 3 cylinders on it. Visions of Aurora, Sandy Hook, and Columbine go through my mind.
I have a split nanosecond, where I wonder: did I see what I think I saw, and what do I do about it? Then, my heart pounds.
I text my daughter to tell her what I saw. I call the school: I go through the voice-mail hell, press 1 if your student is absent, press 2 to get transcripts. I press 0 and nothing happens, so I wait for the whole process to start over. The school does not let me talk to an operator until you press 7.
My daughter is a TA for her history teacher from last year. The teacher is a dream teacher: smart, funny, personable, and brave. I consider grabbing the teacher and my daughter and driving off with them; the teacher would under no circumstances more leave her other students in danger.
I’ve lost sight of the man in camouflage. I tell the school what I saw, and they say they are aware of this person. It might be a service man’s younger brother, or a gardener. I don’t think so.
I call 911. They tell me that they are dispatching police. Our town is not that large but it takes the police over 10 minutes to appear.
My daughter wants to leave; I’m freaked her out, she says. I go to the school and the police are there. I describe what the man I saw: white, shorter than me, medium build. A dozen other parents are there, who have seen the same thing. Someone thought he was carrying a calculus book, which implies he might be a student.
The principle is talking to the police; he’s a former Raider’s football quarterback. Not someone to mess with. The superintendent and counselors are going room to room.
The school is in lockdown, which means I can’t get my daughter out unless I had the presence of mind to invent a doctor’s appointment.
The Choir teacher can’t deploy her leagues of Singing Valentines, students who dress up and sing a song to fellow students or neighbors. Our music department does a lot of fundraising.
Two policemen escort the man in camouflage from the band area. He’s a student, carrying a French horn, and looks scared and shocked. We parents fall back to let things take their course.
The principal and police are talking earnestly with the student. As I walk to my car, I see 4 students wearing red and white sweater with hearts on them leap out into the corridor. They are off to sing. They are joyous.
Bob (name changed), the man in camouflage, turns out to be a very gifted musical student. He has led the band for years. He gets arrested for creating a school disturbance. I can’t decide that day if he’s a criminal or a kid with really bad taste and timing.
My friend tells me this scenario is from a horror movie called Valentine’s Day, where someone stalks high school students for revenge. My daughter tells me that Bob is a great guy and visited our home once.
Our local weekly paper makes this incident its front-page story. A parent writes a long letter to the editor asking that Bob not be punished further; he has a great future at a prestigious music school.
I’m not sure what to think: I had 15 minutes of terror. The most frightening part is: what if I had not followed my instincts and something had happened?
I don’t think Bob needs to be punished further. I hope he goes to college and makes a great life for himself.
My kid is safe for now.
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