I was sitting at the desk, counting down the minutes until recess. First graders were cutting out nouns and adjectives and gluing them in the correct columns. "BEEP BEEP!" the intercom alert sounded. I thought it was just for my class. They'd tell me that someone was checking out and to send him to the office. I was just about to respond to the beep with a, "Yes?" But immediately following, a woman's voice, stern and strong, came over the speaker. "Teachers! We are on lock down. Lock down now!"
In the next two seconds my mind processed a handful of thoughts. The first was that the teacher had failed to inform me that we were having a lock down drill. The second was that the office staff had failed to inform me that we were having a lock down drill. The third was that the woman's voice had been so stern that I wasn't entirely sure we were having a lock down drill. I walked very quickly to the door, pulled the magnet and tugged the door closed quickly. In the couple moments it took to accomplish that particular task, I saw two teachers doing the same thing. They did not look like they knew anything about it. They looked...concerned.
I flicked the lights off.
A sea of six-year-olds stared at me. I glanced quickly around the room and then whispered, "Get against the wall." I ushered them over to the wall where their backpacks hung. It couldn't be seen from the window by the door.
"IS THIS REAL?"
"WHAT'S A LOCKDOWN?"
"IT MEANS THERE IS A REALLY BAD GUY IN THE SCHOOL!"
I put my finger to my lips. "You have to be quiet. I mean it. You can't talk." I whispered almost inaudibly.
"Is it real?" one child whispered back.
"I...I don't know," I replied.
I had no idea if it was real or not. And so I had no choice but to treat it like it was absolutely real. And I had no choice but to treat it as though it was the worst case scenario. "Our door doesn't lock," one boy said.
"What do you mean it doesn't lock?" I asked.
"It's broken. Even when we pull it closed, it doesn't lock," he said with panic painted into his eyes. So there was that piece of information gnawing at me as we sat still for ten minutes. The kids got bored and started giggling. I put my finger to my lips again and told them they had to stay quiet.
Suddenly, a shaky voice came over the speaker. "Teachers, you need to email me or text me.immediately. I repeat, email me or text me immediately." The voice sounded afraid, upset, only barely in control. And that's when I really began to believe that there was someone in the building. This person had reason to believe that there were teachers who were not okay, teachers who could not respond because they were hurt--or worse. They were taking inventory. Which teachers were able to respond?
I was not.
We were fine. But I didn't know who "me" even was. I don't have a district issued computer so I couldn't email. I could use my phone to text or email but it was across the room, past the window, and getting it was a risk I wasn't willing to take. If there was a psychopath standing at the window, waiting for sound or movement, I wasn't about to let him (or her) know that we were in there. Whoever "me" was, she was going to have to wait on the first graders in room 103.
The school was laid out exactly like the one my sons attend. Only the kindergartners stood between us and the front office. If someone went in through the front doors, it wouldn't be long before they reached us. I hadn't heard any confrontations or gun fire, but the upper grade levels are around the back and my first graders weren't being particularly quiet when the first announcement had come. If they'd opened fire on the opposite side of the school, I assumed it was possible that I hadn't heard it.
A few moments later, the handle on the door jiggled up and down several times. Several of the students gasped and I threw my finger over my lips again. Tears welled in kids' eyes. I was characterized by a calmness I'm still surprised by. I realized in that second that our door was, in fact, locked. I also firmly believed that someone was inside the school and they were trying doors.
As I tried to keep scared six-year-olds quiet, I had only a few thoughts.
If someone comes through that door or that window, I have to die trying to protect these kids.
PRAY! Ask for deliverance but also make sure you're ready to see Jesus today.
I MIGHT SEE JESUS TODAY!
My family will never see me again.
Aside from these thoughts, I was numb. I prayed that God would spare me but I also asked that He would welcome me into His presence. I thought of how I would lunge from my place on the floor and slam myself into the gunman. I thought about how much the bullets would hurt. I thought about my husband and my children. Eventually, I thought that the longer we sat there, the better chance we had. Certainly the cops were taking care of it by that point--and I still hadn't heard gunfire.
Suddenly, another jiggle on the door handle. I swallowed hard. Then, the jingle of keys and a woman poked her head inside. She looked around the corner, made eye contact with me and said that I could resume teaching. However, we were still supposed to keep our door locked and no one was allowed to leave the classroom for any reason. Then she turned and walked out.
In that moment, assuming that any imminent danger had passed, I exhaled. Adrenaline flooded from my body at a rapid rate leaving me shaking violently. I'd remained calm. Apparently I'm alright in a crisis situation. It's just after the crisis is over that I fall apart.
The lock down was never really, officially, lifted. Teachers kept their doors closed and their lights out. When the bell rang about a half hour later, I waited until other children filled the halls before letting mine go.
Then I marched down to the office and asked what the heck had happened. "Oh, well, there was a suspicious individual in the neighborhood so we chose to lock down." I explained that I was unable to respond to the announcement about emailing because I had no idea who was speaking and no access to a computer. As I spoke about that being a problem, I got the sense that the office staff thought I was overreacting. Had I known that the threat was outside, I wouldn't have had to jump to "worst case scenario" in my mind and in how I handled the situation. But I had no idea and the best way to take care of a classroom of first graders is to treat the situation as though it could have the worst possible outcome.
I assumed that it was a "no big deal" situation since the office staff seemed none too worried. But this morning my friend sent me a message and an article. As it turns out, the individual was located less than a block away from the school and was being pursued on foot. He was one minute BY FOOT away from the school. He is one of Utah's most wanted. Apparently he was extremely armed and dangerous. You can click here for the story.
Having now been in a situation where nothing really happened and I still feel like years were taken off my life, I cannot imagine what it would be like to sit in a room, listening to gunfire. I cannot imagine witnessing mass murder. I cannot imagine being asked to state my faith and then killed.
When it was over, I looked down at my arm. As an after thought, I'd grabbed my favorite bracelet before I'd walked out the door. It has select phrases from Jeremiah 29:11. He always knows the end from the beginning. And I'm so thankful that yesterday He kept all of us safe.
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"