Did I Over-react by Calling 911?

A Running Diary of the Events that Comprise the Second-Most Scared I’ve Ever Been In My Life

The street view of Frost Elementary, where my children attend.

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.”

8:20 am
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.

The Epilogue
Three thoughts:

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.

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25 Responses to Did I Over-react by Calling 911?

  1. Brian Konegen says:

    Well done Dave! a) Best laugh I have had in days. b) Sounds like what I and half of the leaders at my new church would have done!

  2. Kari says:

    Hi! I saw this because Bonnie commented on it on FB and I just wanted to say that you DID NOT overreact at all. Anyone who says you did is nuts. I applaud your quick reaction and your bravery. Even knowing your kids would be safe you risked your life to save others. This time nothing happened, but if something had I’m sure those people who said you were overreacting would have sung a different tune. It’s nice to know that there are people out there like you.

    That being said, why was that man not wearing the vest in the first place?!?!

  3. Dalesherman says:

    Yes, I’m Mel’s dad. Fascinating read! We should all feel a little better/safer now!

  4. Brian Gilbaugh says:

    Congratulations! You did exactly the right thing. We tell people, “If you see something, say something,” and unlike so many others that either didn’t notice or take action, you did. Had he been a nefarious character, you might well have changed the course of events.

    Sadly, some will now unconsciously continue to retreat into their own little world because of this. So many times things like this happen where it’s simply a misunderstanding, that people will see the real deal and walk away dismissing it and assuming its perfectly ok. To make themselves at peace with what happened, they’ll say you over reacted. But what if he wasn’t a deputy? What would they say to you if you told them that you saw the gunman that shot up their school and killed their kids loading up, but figured, “I’m sure he’s legit.” Don’t let them make you feel doubt in your actions one bit. You should’ve said something, you should’ve called, you should’ve taken action. And you did.

  5. Valerie Norris says:

    You did NOT overreact. Perfect reaction. I would still be shaking.

  6. Rebecca Carson says:

    I applaud you Pastor Dave! As I sat hear reading this message tears were brought to my eyes. Praise God for your quick thinking and action! You did the right thing to keep your community safe. That man should of had his vest and badge on before he got to the school. I can’t imagine that he did not hear your booming voice of concern before he entered school grounds. I hope that the Sheriff’s department learn from this mistake and change their routine for the next school assembly.

  7. Missy says:

    Thank God. Remind me to send my kids to school with your kids or at least somewhere in your neighborhood.

  8. Stacy Scabin says:

    I applaud you Pastor Dave you did exactly what you were supposed to, what if he was a crazy man trying to pull another Columbine or the horrible act of violence in CT last yr. You are a hero now after saying this I did get a good chuckle….lol thanks to a good start to my day.

  9. Lisa Acosta says:

    It may help to get to know this dad. He is very gentle and mild mannered. And he walks his child onto campus, staying till the bell rings at least three days a week.

    • dave says:

      Lisa. You’re absolutely right. The fact that I didn’t recognize the father, nor had I seen him, nor did I know he was a police officer (or worked at the Sheriff’s department) had MUCH to do with this scenario. I wish, for my own heart-rate’s sake, that I had…and the fact that the man was willing to give up his morning to put on an assembly shows exactly the kind of man he is.

  10. D.L. says:

    The question is begged: What was the first most-scared day you ever had?

  11. J says:

    Dude, great story, great descriptions, great reaction. My adrenaline is running right now just reading about it. Thanks for being a good parent!

  12. Heidi R. Foran says:

    Can we please have more citizens like you?
    From a teacher in Wisconsin…

  13. Megan says:

    Wow that was great! Great job Dave you did just what you were supposed to do. I can’t even imagine if the situation had been actually real and no one did anything. It’s a great encouragement for everyone to stand up instead of stand by.

  14. Gary Spencer says:

    Better to overreact and not have anything bad happen than to not react and have a tragedy…

  15. Gina says:

    Trust me missy you don’t want your kids going those schools in that neighborhood hahaha dave … You did the right thing. Better to be safe then sorry. Of people paid more attention and made assumptions based on very leading details, a lot of the shootings at school might of been stopped. Principal and yard duties know the most and have walkies I’d look for them right away but if probably be bouncing the idea off my friends heads on what to do first. I know that adrenaline you are right it’s no joke and amazing how fast our thoughts can process scenarios ect. I’m glad you did what you did.

  16. Rob says:

    Great story. I am a cop (in Canada) and believe you me you did not over react. When I go plain clothes, when you see my gun you see my badge or police identification. With all that has gone on in the US and Canada in the last 10 years, I hope that officer was given a little talk from his superiors of the lack of judgement he made.

  17. Josh Keller says:

    Love the story. Absolutely hilarious and the right thing to do! Unfortunately we live in a time where doing nothing is just not acceptable.

    On another note, this does remind me of the time you saved my life from firecrackers at Russel’s house!!! That was hilarious and unlike the aforementioned school event it was an over reaction! LOL!!

  18. Jenn says:

    Hey, Dave. Thanks for the play-by-play. You DID NOT over-react. All I can think is, what if that guy wasn’t there for an assembly … and what if you didn’t do anything. Thanks for looking out for our kids! I’ll let Vince know you’re keeping an eye on him too, for other reasons! 🙂

  19. Julie Wei says:

    I guess I should be reassured that we are VERY SAFE living across the street from you!
    Good job,Dave!

  20. Sarah says:

    I hope I would have done the same thing you did. Congratulations on your bravery for speaking up.

  21. Matt Brown says:

    Wow Dave. That is a crazy, scary story! Definitely tops anything I’ve been through. You did the right thing, so hopefully you’re not taking too much flak for it. In a real crisis, it’s those kinds of actions that save lives.

    A couple of things came to mind for me:
    (1) That story reminds me of something you’d read in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Extreme danger, adrenaline, tunnel vision and now you need to make a judgment in a nanosecond. Combat boots, camo pants, duffel bag, GUN!, beard, guy you don’t know, elementary school, recent shootings in the national headlines, on and on. Of course you thought the worst!

    (2) I’m glad you didn’t have a gun.

    Good job being loud and vigilant!

  22. Anita Lee says:

    For some reason I imagined at one part of the story you were going to tackle
    the man and try to bring him down. It could have been made into some sort of music video in slow motion?!
    Anyways, I might have done the same thing, even started praying out loud to comfort myself before I tried to tackle the guy. : )

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