This morning, I was sitting in my usual seat in the Rec Hall (front row, by the door) waiting for the meeting to start. When I saw this big black guy with a large rifle yelling at one of our Security guys and walking towards the Rec, I panicked. I didn’t immediately register what was happening until I heard the first shot. For an instant, I froze. Then, I heard the second shot.
The word just sort of slipped out…
…just as everybody in the Rec Hall, all the students and all the staff, seemed to jump up in a singular motion and run in a giant stampede for the rear exit door. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing – a really big guy with a gun was advancing towards the room where I was sitting. Fear like I have never known before took hold of me and I ran.
The crowd by the rear door was so thick, getting out of it wasn’t going to be doable. I followed some of the other students and staff running for the exit door through the workout room. Once I was out that door, I turned left only to find that there was a railing and I couldn’t get out that way. I could still hear shooting and yelling. My adrenaline was pumping, but I wasn’t paralyzed. I was being confronted with two of my worst fears – violent death and an active shooter, and all I could think of was to hide. Survival mode kicked in and I was ready.
I found this hollow in a really large tree in the center of our courtyard and I wedged my body in there and prayed that the shooter would keep going past me. Other people decided to come and hide behind my tree. I am ashamed to say that I told them to go find their own tree. There went my hope that (in a crisis) my backbone might actually assert itself and displace the rather large yellow streak running down my back.
I didn’t have time to fret about those other people for long. The gunman was quickly advancing into the courtyard and was firing at anybody that moved. Everybody was running all over the place. I saw that he was still far away from where I was and was looking the other way… so I ran to the fire exit stairs leading to the second floor. I kept below the railing as I made my way down the hallway. I looked into the doorway to see if it was clear. Punching in the code to my classroom, I turned off the lights and the fan in one motion as I crossed the room and hid under my desk.
I was breathing hard.
I wanted to cry, but instead I prayed.
I started to recite my scripture:
Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…
And there I sat until they gave the ALL CLEAR.
We had our first ever Active Shooter Drill today at school complete with police officers and the emergency response team (think S.W.A.T). They had rifles and assault weapons and they were firing of A LOT OF BLANKS. Of course, I could have told you that at the very beginning of my post… but I wanted you to feel a tiny bit of what I felt today.
There was a short briefing before they began the drill where they explained everything… they even showed us a video filmed at another school so we would know what it would be like. So I KNEW that it wasn’t real… and still… when that big guy came storming towards me with a weapon raised… it felt real. The fear was real. And that fear… is the kind of fear that will keep you alive.
I actually handled the drill better than I thought I would.
My dad tried to kill me when I was a child. I had to run for my life. My sister’s boyfriend held us at gunpoint when I was a kid. Cops and a police helicopter were called in to save us. To this day, I do not remember the specifics of either event. If other people were not there to corroborate my story… I wouldn’t even believe me. But those things happened to me… as a child. I had to run for my life in fear and I have been running and afraid ever since.
Given the fact that I’m pretty much afraid of EVERYTHING… it shouldn’t surprise anybody that two of the BIG ONES on my List of Fears are: 1). Imminent violent death and 2). Active Shooters. Evidently, God was asking me to confront both of those fears today. PRAISE GOD it was only a drill!
I started crying during the informational video. Columbine started flashing in my head. My own past started knocking on the edges of my subconscious. I needed to cry in that instant because I needed to release some of the stress I was feeling… so I let myself cry. Not a big old noticeable meltdown. I think only the person sitting closest to me actually realized that I wasn’t ok… so I kept taking deep breaths… in through the nose… and making myself relax. I forced myself to stay in the moment. Eventually, I calmed down and felt ready. Then the officers told us to wait in the Rec Hall while they finalized some things. I thought they’d come back and tell us what to do next.
They thought to use the element of surprise.
So even though I KNEW that it was going to happen… I was totally unprepared for the reality of it when it did. Or so I thought. I did NOT have a meltdown. I kept a cool head despite my fear. I evaluated and assessed the situation and made a plan that kept me safe. And that was how the rest of the morning went. They did two more scenarios and with each one, my fear receded…
I would LOVE to say that I was that teacher who threw herself in front of a student to take a bullet for them or that I managed to lead a bunch of other students to safety. But I’d be lying. In my fear, I only thought about my own safety. The first scenario seemed so real. Even though I KNEW the truth, my brain convinced me that I was in danger. My survival instinct kicked in and I ran and I hid.
It was only later when I was at home that I realized how selfish I’d been. I hadn’t even thought about anybody other than myself. As I talked to God about today I started to cry. I was so ashamed. Now, it would be REALLY easy to start harshing on myself about right now… but today’s lesson wasn’t on heroism. It was on facing two of my biggest fears. Three…if you count the stairs.
During the second scenario, I did hide in plain sight with student. I kept her quiet and made her stop trying to see what was going on. And in the third scenario, I kept an entire classroom full of students quiet, calm, and in place until the ALL CLEAR was given. They wanted to leave when the shooting stopped, but we were briefed that during an actual Active Shooter event, people have to sometimes stay in place for hours as police and special response teams work to secure the scene and take out the threat. I might not have been a hero today… but I didn’t die and neither did the kids entrusted to my care.
I also wasn’t that woman in the video that was so paralyzed by fear that she squeezed herself into a corner, too afraid to move, and just wilted in tears. People had to drag her out of the building. I am happy to say that I was not THAT woman today.
During our drill, God reinforced another lesson that he taught me this week. Earlier this week, God had me confront Fear #5 on my list (catastrophic illness)… and I learned that ignorance is NOT bliss. It’s ignorant. Fear breathes and breeds where there is ignorance. Today and earlier this week, God spoke to me about the importance of being prepared by getting the knowledge, information, or training necessary to dispel the fear. Being prepared doesn’t show a lack of faith. It shows wisdom.
Having an escape plan helped dispel my fear. Knowing my enemy also helped dispel my fear. I even had a chance to sit the drill out, but chose not to. I KNEW God was calling me to actively confront this fear and break the stranglehold that it’s had on my entire life. I learned a lot of other stuff today… but I’m still processing. It’s not every day you have people shooting at you.
I am glad we did this today, though. By the third scenario, I was not afraid. I was able to take control of my classroom and keep my students safe. I was the one to run and secure both doors. PRAISE GOD I CAN FINALLY RUN!!!
Today’s drill was eye opening. I know what I need to do for when we have the drill next year. I cannot say that I felt God’s presence with me today… but I knew that he was and I felt safe in him. God forbid this EVER happen in real life… but after today, I am more prepared and less afraid. Actually… I’m still afraid… but not the paralyzing kind. I have that healthy fear… the kind that keeps you and the people you love alive.
So… I pose this question to you: Are you ready? Would you know what to do if there was an active shooter in your workplace or in the theater where you’re having date night??? OR at the mall… or wherever else you go where groups of people assemble??? Would you be the person who, paralyzed by fear, stands there having a meltdown… or would you be able to act? Would you run? Would you hide??
Of course, this all makes me go all end-timey in my thinking. I just read Revelation and I’ve been thinking about what it means to be prepared for the end times. If Jesus were to come back tomorrow… are you ready? Do you know him??? Do you even want to??? If you don’t know him… why not?? In a way, this is just like what I learned today with the Active Shooter Drill… it’s better to get the facts and be prepared than to be ignorant and suffer for it.