To borrow the lyrics from a song by Snow Patrol, “I don’t quite know, how to say, how I feel.”
But because I do better when I write things down, I’m going to try.
For the past 10 years we’ve lived in a place we like to refer to as ‘the middle of nowhere.’ It’s not quite a town, but it isn’t a bustling city either. We have to drive about 10 minutes to a gas station (for the time being – one is being built very close by), and just a little over that for a grocery store. To get to anything else, you’re driving 20 minutes out. If you want something super fun, like a Target or an Olive Garden – you’re looking at at least 30 minutes.
But it’s quiet and full of kids. (Kind of an oxymoron, I know) And for the most part we’ve felt safe here in our little neck of the woods. That all changed yesterday afternoon.
As Monday’s go out here, it’s early out day for the schools. The 3 older kids had arrived home and there’s about a half hour between the time the Jr. High schoolers get home and when the Elementary kids get home.
I was busy packing for our move and watching the time. I had to take Shaylyn and her friend to cheer practice. We were going to need to leave a little earlier than usual because I needed to stop for gas and Lex wanted to be dropped off at a friends house.
So I’m watching the time and as it inches closer to 3:00, I start wondering where my little kids are. They are usually home by about 2:45. I just kind of think to myself that they maybe walked with a friend and are being a little slow today.
Before I decide to get in the car to take Shaylyn, I check Facebook and see a notification on our little neighborhood page that informs us that there was a bomb threat at the elementary and all the kids were evacuated.
My heart drops. I was glad to hear my kids were safe, but I wanted to get them and know where they were. Within a few minutes there was another notice letting us know where the kids were. I piled everyone in the car and we went to get the kids.
At the first intersection we came to, an officer let me know that my 3rd grader was at a house just ahead of us (I could see a bunch of kids in a backyard), and that my 1st grader was at City Hall.
I made my way to the house and after parking where I could, I followed the crowd into the house and out the back door. There was a gentleman asking who I was looking for, a lady then asked for the teacher. Problem is Nate has a teacher in the morning and one in the afternoon and I couldn’t remember either name. As I was explaining that he had 2 teachers, Nate and his teacher walked up to me. I grabbed that boys hand and didn’t let go until we were safely to the car. On the way to the car though, Nate asked if Ailey was okay. That brought the tears, I assured him she was safe and that we were headed to get her.
I attempted to make my way to City Hall, but got stopped at an intersection by another officer. I made sure the 1st graders were still there and he replied, “Yes, but you can’t get to them.” And that’s when the waterworks turned on. He tried to assure me that the kids were safe and in a safe place and that they just wanted to keep us safe as well. I guess I should mention that City Hall is across from the school. There is about a block or so between them, but it’s a block of open space.
I knew he was just doing his job and so I thanked him through tears and made my way through the detour.
After a minute of driving it occurred to me that there was a back way into City Hall. There isn’t a road there, but a walking path and weeds. I parked where the road ends and saw a few other parents using this tactic, and I followed suit. At that point in time, it wasn’t enough that my daughter was safe, with school personnel and city workers – in a safe place. I just wanted her safe WITH ME.
I was also concerned about her well being. She worries about some things that wouldn’t stress most people out. She has a major fear of the rain and storms and hates when family members aren’t inside during either event. She passed up going to a movie and to a store with her Grandma for birthday celebrations because of rain. So I was nervous as to how she was doing.
I get into City Hall and find where the kids are. Ailey seems to be doing okay for the most part, she is playing with one of her good friends. A teacher asks how she’s doing and she starts to tear up a bit. I wait for her teacher to finish with a parent ahead of me, and in the mean time another teacher has me sign the paper so they know Ailey went with a parent.
I scoop Ailey up into my arms and she just starts bawling. I carry my little girl, like she’s a toddler again and I don’t even care that it’s awkward because of my full hands (I had my wallet and two paper airplanes she made in them). She buries her face into my shoulder and cries. Through her tears she asks about Nate. Once again, I am brought to tears. I assure her that he’s in the car and we’re headed to him.
I have to put her down to walk sooner than I would’ve liked to, but I am more out of shape than I’d like to admit. We get to the car and I notice that Nate was in full on tears, Shaylyn was also choked up. When we get Ailey in the car, Shaylyn and her share a hug that probably lasted a full minute if not longer.
By the time we had Ailey it was a little after 4. Shaylyn had to be at practice at 4, but because of the time and how shook up I still was, there was no way I was going to take her anymore. She wasn’t really in the mood to go either. Lex, however, had wanted to go hang out with a friend who lives in another part of the city. Plans had fallen through a few days previous, so I wanted him to be able to have some sort of fun. So we made our way to his friends house, we then headed back home.
Because I didn’t expect to encounter the issues we did when getting Ailey, I hadn’t brought a bottle or anything for Zach and he was getting hungry. We tried to make our way back home, but once again got detoured. I tried to explain to the cop where I lived thinking he might let us through (a car ahead of us was allowed through – still unsure why), but he just told me I had to take the detour and I might not be able to get back home.
I was flustered and still reeling in the events of the day and wasn’t thinking clearly. But as I started taking the detour I realized I could still get home by taking some back roads through neighborhoods. We got home just in time. Zach had about lost all patience.
I spent the next few minutes/hours trying to figure out what had happened and what the situation was.
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but the jest of it is. A guy wearing a green dress of sorts, a white turban and a black mask walked into the Elementary School and demanding evacuation of the school and claimed he had bombs in his car, which he had driven up to the school doors.
It also was at a time when the early students had already left and were home, so there was only 200 – 300 students left at school at the time. This made it a bit easier for teachers, I’m sure. It also helped that our school had run an evacuation drill a couple weeks prior.
The man had sent an email to a couple of newspapers or something explaining that he was going to do just what he did. It was later revealed that he had a blog that had some disturbing items in it. In both the emails and blog he stated that he was a ‘Radical Islamic Jihadist.’ So that was cause for a lot of concern.
The police and other responders did what they were trained to do. There were even snipers around. Thankfully, things ended peacefully and when things were searched – they literally found nothing. Not in his car, not in the school, not even in his home. They also discovered he wasn’t really a terrorist, just someone with a history of mental instability.
I was beyond relieved to hear that there was nothing behind his threat. But before you know the true story, the fears are very real. I honestly had never been so sick to my stomach thinking about all the things that could’ve happened and all the things my kids could’ve been a witness or victim to. It was a very long day and one that made me even more thankful for the safety of my kids. And there are at least 200 other parents out there feeling the same way.
Eric and I had decided the kids didn’t have to go to school the next day. I felt everyone needed a ‘mental health’ day and Eric was a bit uncomfortable with them going back. However, the very next morning they both wanted to get back to school. Ailey mentioned that she just wanted to see her teacher.
Neither one of them wanted to walk to school though, so I drove them. When we arrived at school we saw that someone had gave the school a ‘heart attack.’ I knew this was in the works as we have a Facebook page for our community and someone spear headed this whole thing. But I didn’t say anything to the kids. Ailey noticed right away and said, “Someone decorated the school. Why did they do that?” So I explained to her that people wanted the kids and teachers to know that they were loved and that they were amazing. She had a big smile on her face.
And that’s the thing. I mentioned we live in a smallish area, but it is a community of love. We occasionally have beefs over silly things and there are many disagreements to be had on any given day, but when it comes down to it – this community loves and cares for one another and they band together for good.
If you don’t think decorating a school was hard, here’s something else to consider about this community….
The guy who started all this drama and caused a big scene has 2 kids of his own and a pregnant wife. And they live here. Can you imagine how this little family feels at this time? Someone else spearheaded an effort to gather items for the wife and kids of this man. There are meals being taken into the family among other efforts. I think that’s pretty awesome that we can come together and see that she is also a victim in this situation and her heart is hurting every bit as much, and probably more so, than us as parents were.
So I am thankful at this time for the safety of my children, and for the love they all expressed for each other in a difficult circumstance. I am thankful for the school my kids attend and the faculty there. I am thankful for the citizen who opened her home for who knows how many 2nd – 6th graders to get them out of the sun. I am thankful for city leaders who had no problems sheltering the little kids where they have to do business daily. I am thankful for the many officers who spent a good portion of their day, Monday diverting traffic and waiting patiently for a peaceful ending. I’m thankful for the officers who then turned around the next day and offered to just be present at the school. I am thankful to live in a community that cares and rallies around each other, even if it is in the middle of nowhere.