I’m never one to shy away from sharing a bad or awful dating story. Unfortunately, this post is not about that. This is much worse, far tragic, and something no one should ever have to face. This is about the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting…the school my daughter attends.
So I am doing what helps me cope, as I sit and toss and turn in my bed, weary-eyed, unable to catch any ZZZZ’s as I play the day over and over in my head, and tell the story of what happened from a parent’s point of view. This is hard to tell, but better that I see it on paper than playing like recorder on loop-play or repeat.
As a beautiful warm day began, I drove to my daughter’s school, usually arriving around 2ish to sit in the parking lot and write or listen to podcasts until her release at 2:40pm. That way I beat the car line and we get to drive off without facing any traffic. Today was no different – or so I thought.
Around 2:25pm, several students on either side of me were exiting the building when out of nowhere the security man came by on his golf cart at top speed.
“GET BACK INSIDE! NOW! GO! GO! GO,” he shouted. I looked around thinking this was a drill.
At 2:29pm I texted her, “What the heck is going on?”
“CODE RED…PLEASE GET OUT. I’M SCARED!”
Within two minutes, there were cops everywhere. S.W.A.T. teams showed up, armored cars, and just about every police department arrived at the school. They were pulling up in droves, getting out of their squad cars quickly, throwing on vests and pulling out fully-armed artillery. They moved quickly up to the building, guns and rifles drawn, circling inside and outside. Several kids were seen running, smoke was in the air and none of us parents sitting in the parking lot had any idea what was happening.
“Dad, is this a drill? I’m shaking,” my daughter text me.
“Not a drill honey. Cops everywhere. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Take a deep breath. Relax. Daddy’s here.”
Just after I said that, gun shots were fired. Several cops came into the parking lot and we had to abandon our vehicles as the shooter was still on the loose. We were being forced to leave and go across the street and down a few blocks to the park.
“Gun shots are fired. Shooter is in the parking lot.”
“omg. please be safe.”
“I’m fine. It’ll be over soon. Just relax. Be safe. I’m not going anywhere.”
My stomach had crawled into my throat as I had no idea what was happening, nor was I about to go away from the school. So I crossed the street, walked up the hill, passed through the shrubbery separating the neighborhood of homes from the school and stood on the other side, watching, waiting, and worrying.
There were a few people near me that lived in the neighborhood, but they were merely there to find out what was going on. Finally a couple other parents arrived, standing with me, waiting.
“I am still shaking. We are in a closet. I’m scared.”
“Just stay safe, keep hidden. I promise I’m not going anywhere.”
This was the first time in my life I felt completely helpless, like if my daughter was drowning in a pool and I could see it a mile away but would never make it in time to save her. That’s exactly how I felt. Several parents were standing around, feeling the same way, I’m sure.
Cops kept arriving, guns drawn, running to the school. Helicopters were flying all around. More armored vehicles arrived. Ambulance vehicles, firetrucks arrived. Finally, a group of kids were running out, single-file, with their hands in the air. They had to drop off their backpack in the street, were instructed to sit on the hill, and then were asked the following three questions:
“Is anyone injured and need assistance? Does anyone have any knowledge of this happening or witness the shooting? Did anyone capture the shooting on your phone?”
They would then allow the children to retrieve their backpacks, head single-file to the north end of the street, and from there, I believe they were bused to a safe location.
With each group of children, I hoped to see my daughter. I was on the phone with my mother as she was trying to get details about the incident from the news and keep me patient while I was waiting to get word on my daughter and her safety.
Suddenly, the gentleman standing next to me screamed out, “OH THANK GOD! THERE’S MY BOY,” as he pointed diagonally from where we were standing on the hill. I screamed it out in support of him as you could see the look on his face suddenly relaxed in relief to know his son was across the street and safely out of the school.
My phone would ring and this time it was my ex-wife. She was in hysterics just under the overpass to the south of the school, unable to get by as police had secured the location to keep everyone away and safe. I kept trying to reassure her that she would be fine, all while still feeling a knot in my stomach and an equally large knot in my throat.
Suddenly, the mother standing behind me began crying as she saw her son coming from the next group of children crossing the street.
I smiled at her and we hugged.
“Any word on your daughter?”
I was doing everything to keep calm, pray, and hope for the best as there was still no word on if the suspect had been apprehended or if he was still on the loose.
Standing at the top of the hill, I watched closely and carefully, waiting to hear from my daughter.
I then received a text and she told me she was out. They were all against the wall directly across from where I was standing, about 300 yards away. I text her that I was waving my arm, but she was seated and couldn’t see me. It still wasn’t enough even though there was a group of officers standing guard while they sat in the grass, in the shade, against the school wall.
Finally, she was standing. I saw her wave. They were then escorted across the street and were seated on the hill just below where I was standing. Several of the students were crying. Teachers were hugging. Parents stood with open arms as their children came running. She was given the nod to go and it was at that moment I was able to hold my child in my arms.
I shed a few tears, but was mostly relieved to have her near me. I walked her to the other side of the overpass where her mother stood and then we all began to cry tears of joy.
This continued on throughout the evening. My eyes are still glossy as I write this. The news was full of information – video of the event inside the classroom, students that were hospitalized that my daughter had as friends, text messages that a student sent to her mother saying “if I don’t make it out alive, thank you for everything you’ve done for me and know I love you.” It was heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, pain. I had to watch my daughter cry several times. She watched as her mother and I broke down.
While we were happy to have her home safe, the loss of so much – those poor children, their families, the teachers, the coaches and security – I can’t begin to fathom the pain they will endure. The three of us were a mixed bag of emotions, sitting together, watching the news; happy that our daughter was home safe with us; sad that this tragedy happened; sad and hurt that it happened in our daughter’s school and so many wonderful people lost their lives; and angry that this coward caused so many so much pain.
Never in this world do you ever imagine an event like this happening that involves you. The acts of Columbine, Va. Tech, Sandy Hook, and so many others were tragic. I felt for those parents, but never understood the state of shock and fear they experienced…until yesterday. Even writing this, as therapeutic as it has been, my stomach is still in a partial knot and I’m still saddened by this tragic occurrence.
I wish I had an answer. I don’t. Stricter gun laws? Red flags on social media the way they do when pornography or nudity is posted? Less violent video games? Maybe we need to be more observant, or nosy or curious, like the nosy next door neighbor? I don’t have the answer. However, I did research on the past several mass shootings and there is a hugely shared identifier – all of them had clues that lead up to the event that were either disregarded (Columbine) or not reported (as in the case of the Sutherland Springs church shooting…but much more intricate with details that involved Kelley’s military career).
Again, I don’t have the answers. I pray for those that lost family yesterday. I cry tears of joy that my daughter is home safe with me. My heart breaks all around because I can’t imagine how the students must have felt.
I do know that this was the scariest day of my life…by and large! I never wish it on anyone. I hope no one ever has to go through this. And I hope and pray this never happens again. You never fully understand the magnitude of a situation until you are knee-deep in it.
I praise and thank all Broward County LEO, SWAT, FBI, ATF, EMS, and Firefighters. I thank all those who supported me and my ex with phone calls, text messages, FB messages, and FB posts to check on us as we moved patiently and anxiously through this harrowing event. I pray for the entire Stoneman Douglas family as we all go through this trying time, to heal quickly and begin moving forward. I love all my family and friends and am happy to start moving ahead and being available to help out in this time of need wherever possible. God Bless! Eagle Pride!