A Running Diary of the Events that Comprise the Second-Most Scared I’ve Ever Been In My Life
Let’s Start At The End
Let me begin this story by telling you the ending. EVERYONE IS FINE. NOTHING HAPPENED AT ALL. But, this morning was one of the two scariest moments of my entire life. You’ll see why in a few paragraphs. Again, to reiterate: EVERYONE IS FINE.
I park the car across the street from Justus and Jaelle’s school. We walk across the street, and I notice that Jaelle is wearing a completely pink outfit, including, but not solely limited to her shirt, skirt, shoes, hair ties, lunchbox, water bottle and back-pack. Now *that’s* accessorizing.
We walk across the playground toward the school building. At our campus, there are effectively two schools. One is a charter program called the Indigo Program, which my kids attend. And the other is the local neighborhood elementary school called Frost Elementary.
The first bell for the Indigo Program rings. The Frost School and the Indigo Program have a slightly staggered school schedule, and Frost starts 15 minutes later than our school.
Jaelle gives me a kiss and skips away to catch up with her friend, a boy named Vince, who I will keep a firm eye on in the coming years.
Justus asks me if I can go to the store and buy the ingredients for the Baked Strawberry Cheesecake recipe that he read that morning on the back of the Honey Bunches of Oats N Strawberries cereal box. I vaguely promise, “We’ll see,” which is basically like saying “I’m a wimpy parent and I don’t feel like arguing right now.”
Nicole and I turn and head back across the large blacktop expanse back to our car. The boys from Frost are playing a game of football. Their offense is about as sophisticated as the 49′ers was this past weekend.
We get into our minivan and drive away. I drive slowly and cautiously down Comanche Drive, the street the runs in front of the school.
The length of sidewalk in front of the school is where the parents who arrive early park. It’s prime real estate, since the parking spots along that sidewalk are the closest to the school grounds. I’ve never, in four years, parked there. I suppose I could, if I just got up 15 minutes earlier. But who has that kind of time? There are two openings in the long fence surrounding the playground. And one length of the curb is painted white and says, “Loading Zone: 5 minute parking only.”
As I drive by the loading zone, I see something that makes my heart stop. There is a man who I have never seen before. He is standing at the back of a silver Toyota Avalon. The trunk is open. The man is dressed in black combat boots. He is wearing camouflage pants. He is wearing a camouflage shirt. He has a thick beard. I have never seen this man before. And out of the trunk of his car, he is loading some equipment into two large black duffel bags. And as I pull by, he pulls out a large holster belt and fastens it around his waist. On the belt is at least one hand-gun. (I thought at first glance that maybe there were two, though).
I pull over immediately. “That guy had guns,” I say to Nicole.
“What?” she says.
“That guy back there. In the camouflage. He had guns. I saw them.”
“What are you going to do?” Nicole asked.
“I don’t know.” I said.
I put the car in park. I was not properly pulled into the spot, but parallel parking now seemed the least of my worries.
I run around and see some parents who I know.
“That man! Down there! He has guns! I saw them.”
I start pointing down about 50 yards to where the man is still gathering his gear. I try to make sure he sees me. I make sure I am loud. This is not difficult for me.
“I’m calling 911 now” one of the mother says.
“Yes! Call 911. All of you,” I say.
Two more mothers come by. I point down to the silver Toyota Avalon, and tell them, “That man has guns in his trunk. I saw them. That man has guns. Call 911!”
The women both quickly pull out their cell phones and call 911.
I walk through one of the two openings in the fence and begin walking on the playground toward the man in the car. I walk toward him to get a better angle. At this point, he removes both the duffel bags from the trunk, puts them on the ground behind the car and shuts the trunk of the car. He picks up the duffel bags and crosses the sidewalk. He walks through the second opening in the fence. He is wearing a holster. There is no identification on his person. No badge. No uniform that I can identify. Just a man with a thick beard wearing black combat boots, dressed head to toe in camouflage, carrying two duffel bags and at least one gun.
At this point, you must know something about me. I am very, very, VERY good at three things:
1. Catching Gummi Bears with my mouth.
2. Singing along perfectly to ‘NSync songs.
3. Being very loud and getting people’s attention.
I immediately begin running toward the kids playing football on the playground. I start shouting, as loudly as I can, “That man has a gun! He’s got a gun! Call the police! Call the police!”
There are some Frost kids near me. I tell them to “Get out of here!”
I am now running across the playground, screaming my head off. “That man has a gun!” I am pointing at the man. I figure perhaps if I can draw as much attention to him as possible, he might get scared.
I run directly to the school principal and the woman on yard-duty. I figure they can call in and perhaps implement an immediate lock-down.
I run to the principal, “That man! That man has a gun! I saw it! He has a gun. It’s on his holster.”
I point to the man who is walking toward us. He is perhaps 50 yards away.
“What man?” the principal says. He unhooks his radio and presses his thumb to the “talk” button. The teacher on yard duty also takes out her radio.
“Call the police,” I say. “Call them now!”
The man stops. He puts down his duffel bags. He begins slowly opening one.
I am literally shaking. My over-active mind imagines the next few seconds. I know – and I mean KNOW in my soul – that this man, dressed all in camo, wearing black combat boots, with the thick beard, is going to pull out an assault rifle.
I do not have a weapon. I do not have any cover. There are probably 50 kids between him and me. They did not hear me yelling. They have not yet moved.
At this point, I remember thinking two things.
1. My children are safe. By the time the teachers hear the pop of gunfire, they will go into lock-down mode. The police will swarm to the school. Every available cop, who I know has been trained for this *exact* scenario, will dispatch to the school. And because I know the mothers by my car are calling 911, police will be there in a few minutes.
2. I will have to make a decision. If the man pulls out a shotgun, I can perhaps charge him. If it’s an assault rifle, I will have to take cover and wait for him to reload. But regardless, many children are about to die.
The man pulls out a vest. It reads, in large letters, on the back:
He holds it above his head. He is calm.
The principal, who is a few feet to my left, says, “He’s with the Sheriff’s department. There’s an assembly today.”
At this point, another police officer ambles up. He is in full uniform. I didn’t see where he came from. From what I can gather, he is there for the assembly as well.
I breathe for the first time in several minutes.
1. Adrenaline is no joke. It took me about three hours to stop shaking. I felt like I imagine what I would feel like if I drank four shots of espresso and chased it with a few Red Bulls. Who needs Starbucks when that kind of thing happens?
2. At 7pm, the Oak Grove School District sent out a voice recording to all parents at the school. It detailed the events of that morning, and explained that the officer was in an unmarked car and was in plain-clothes for an assembly. It said that the district was “extremely proud” of the parents who reported the man to school officials and who had called 911. That made me feel good about our community of parents.
3. I got some flack from some folks already for my over-reaction. And I admit it: I probably over-react more strongly to more things in a day that most people do all month. You don’t want to watch a tightly contested sporting event with me. Earlier this week, my friend, who runs a Chinese Church debriefed their recent retreat where I was the guest speaker. He said, “You’re just…really loud. It was good, but it took us a while to get used to…your volume.” Noted.
But I suppose, considering the information that I *did* have, erroneous as it was, I probably erred in the direction of student safety. And although I appreciate the members of the Sheriff’s Department taking time out of their day to run an assembly for our school, if you’re going to show up to my kid’s school in an unmarked non-police car AND park in a loading zone AND dress head-to-toe in camouflage AND strap guns to your waist while standing at the trunk of your car AND not wear any easily recognizable identification AND have a large beard…well, you just might have to deal with a Tieche running around screaming for everyone to get down.