Welcome to the age of being a parent in 2015. It used to be the only school notices we were compelled to worry about were snow closures or on a very rare occasion – storms which caused power outages, but today as I was readying to depart for my Wednesday morning gym class my cell began tweeting, the house phone began ringing and the email box chimed with several incoming emails highlighted in red. The robo call, text and email notifications simply stated, “All Schools within the district will be closed today and all students who are already in school buildings are on lockdown. Any child on a bus will be diverted to the district office buildings.” No explanation. No reassurance. Nothing.
My mouth went dry, my blood pressure spiked and my palms started sweating. Although I tend to not usually go all panicky, my mind could not help but go to worst case scenarios. Our home is nearly equidistant between the Seattle Pacific University campus where a gunmen shot four students last June and Marysville Pillchuck High School where a young student shot and killed four classmates before turning the gun on himself in the cafeteria just two and a half months ago. I’ll give you one good guess as to the mental pictures that instantly were painted in my head.
My fingers typed like a whirlwind and I pulled up local news stations, internet feeds and the district website. No information available. I texted and called my son at the local high school. No answer. I tried to talk to myself logically. Didn’t work. I called my Usually Lovely Husband in a meeting to see if he had heard anything on the radio driving into work. He had not, of course, and now his voice became pensive as well.
Several minutes later another notification was sent saying an armed man had been seen on a school campus and all schools were responding to the threat. At least now we knew that nothing horrifying had actually occurred. My heart started beating at a regular rhythm once again. Still no word from my high school student however. My logical self knew that he was perfectly safe, my mommy brain still had that niggling edge because my baby was somewhere unreachable.
After a series of texts with my U.L.H. I decided to continue to my spin class at the gym and keep my phone available through the class. By this time the “mommy network” had started and texts were flying between parents. Speculation was rampant but there was no definitive information.
Ten minutes into my cycling routine my phone rang. I snatched it up and heard the next robo call from the school district. “All students safe within their schools. The lockdown will continue until further notice due to an armed man in the area. Police have surrounded the schools and all students are safe at this time.”
Reassuring? Well, yes – because I know that the teachers in our district are remarkable for the most part and will take great care of the kids, but realistically, I was still spiking some extra heart palpitations that had nothing to do with my spin class. On the one hand, no violence had actually occurred. On the other hand, our resident precinct officers walking around with loaded guns is not a picture I like to think of either. Their normal operations involve hassling teenagers in the local park and pulling over offenders for doing 29 in a 25 mile an hour zone.
I spent the remainder of my spin class checking my phone and trying to keep my sweat from dripping across the keyboard while I read the dearth of text messages from parents trying to piece together a calmer scenario than what our imaginations were skirting around. Driving home from the gym my son managed to send me a text from a friend’s phone that had better reception informing me that he “was fine but his phone wouldn’t send.” Again, although my logical brain lobe had told me he was perfectly secure, seeing those words caused a palpable sense of relief that I was not expecting. I scolded myself for internalized fretting. In my defense, he is still my baby – despite the 10 inches of height differential. I also was raised Catholic and worry and guilt are inherent qualities.
The next surge of robo calls, texts and emails came moments later. Children were being released to parents or, in the case of my teen – allowed to walk to his car in the parking lot and drive home. Heavily armed guards surrounded the school. These were not our local officers. This is an actual photo. They were not screwing around – even if these guys are mugging for the camera.
By 11:30 a.m. my house was filled with teen spirit. A group of boys had descended to play games and fraternize and discuss the cool factor of the heavily armored police presence around the school. Rumors of suspects being apprehended were spread across twitter and facebook. The “mommy network” continued to maintain contact – especially after it was determined that the suspect shown on the news being put into a police car early in the afternoon was not the perp. (note my TV induced official police jargon) At 5:15 p.m. the Superintendent of Schools sent out a notice FINALLY clarifying the situation. It read:
At 7:20 a.m. this morning Shoreline Police responded to a report of an armed male seen on the property of Meridian Park Elementary School. This unknown male made a statement that indicated he would go to all of the schools.
The Meridian Park campus was immediately placed in lockdown. Shoreline Police responded quickly and took control of the situation. Based on the threat to all District schools, the lockdown was expanded to the whole district and subsequently the decision was made to close schools for the day. Students who were already on school buses when the incident began were brought to Shoreline Center. After consultation with the police, the lockdown was ended about 11 a.m.
According to police, no suspect has been identified or arrested. The investigation will continue and anyone with information on this incident is urged to call the King County Sheriff’s Office.
We plan to have school on a normal schedule tomorrow. Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and King County Police will be enhancing their patrols with a focus on our schools. The District appreciates the support of our law enforcement partners.
I am not sure if I feel better or worse at this point. I had been thinking all afternoon that perhaps this was an incident that had been blown out of proportion. Nope. Not at all. And the crazy dude was still out there. I also had a meeting at the high school at 6:30. I clarified with the activities coordinator whom I was meeting that this was still a good idea. No worries on her end so I text-ed my U.L.H. and told my children that I loved them in case anything happened to me. One never knows after all. They rolled their eyes but I felt better for the gesture. I then gave brief consideration to taking the geriatric canine unit for protection but realized that #1 – he would hide behind me even if he was still fully functional and #2 – he wouldn’t be able to walk the 25 yards from the car to the front door of the school in under ten minutes and I would be late.
Needless to say, the meeting went fine, I returned home without incident and at this point everyone is safe and sound. At my house and across our neighborhood bodies are tucking into bed. Although I think there is a niggling worry in every household who has school age children or loved ones who work in the district about tomorrow and sleep may be uneasy – I think there is also some hope. Why you ask after seeing my obvious agitation? Our teachers and our schools. They are prepared, they are compassionate and they have taken the world on their shoulders in caring for our children. I am quite certain that teachers and principals would rather worry about snow days as well. Today was scary, tomorrow possibly will be too – but there are lessons beyond Math and History that our kids learned from their educators today. They learned how to be strong in the face of a crisis, they learned how to be compassionate in a stressful situation and they learned how to not let fear determine a negative outcome. The teachers at my son’s high school continued their lessons through the allocated class period times. When the lockdown continued they played games with students, joked, googled ski conditions, talked sports, allowed music and did tutorial lessons. One teacher even played Ferris Bueller’s Day off.
I think it is easy to have a heavy heart in today’s world. But I also hope that we can move beyond the negativity that is easy to let permeate our spirit and see the greatness in people. I’m thankful for the quick thinking of district officials and the kind and calm manner in which the teachers handled their students in a tense situation. I am pretty sure when they were taking their education classes in college they did not foresee a day like today, but they handled it with grace.
I do have one last wish though. The next time district officials send out a robo call /text/ email closing the schools and instigating lockdowns and security can they please preface the information with something along the lines of “No serious incidents have occurred” so that the need to visit my colorist isn’t so imminent? These grey hairs are getting harder and harder to cover up.