I never dreamed that I would see a person walking through my child's school carrying an M-16 assault rifle. That non dream became reality on Thursday, towards the end of lunch, while I sat in the rotunda at Oakley Elementary. I knew at that point that the threat was real.
The cafeteria director had asked me last week, as I sat with the kid at lunch time, if I would be willing to come in and help get the Holiday Meal ready. I showed up at 9am and started helping cut up over 60 pumpkin pies, putting them in serving dishes and decorating them with a dollop of whipped cream.
The task took around and hour and I found myself with an hour of free time. I headed home to conduct some business, make some phone calls and send some e-mails. At 10:15 am I returned to the school to help sell meal tickets to adults and families who would be joining their kids for lunch. I really enjoy meeting the assorted parents who come into the school , and enjoy chatting with parents who I have known since the kid was in Kindergarten.
Around noon, traffic died down and the kindergarten classes, the last classes to eat lunch were in the cafeteria, getting their meals. I headed to the cafeteria to turn the money in. I stopped to chat with some of the kids and shoot the breeze. A lot of kid's parents can't make these special times due to work and I try to make an effort to visit with them and let them know they are special.
Suddenly we heard over the speaker system that the school was on lock down, and "this is not a drill". I probably could have made a beeline for the front door and headed home, but instead, I helped usher the little kids into the back of the kitchen, following protocol. After about 1/2 an hour, the full lock down was reduced to a perimeter lock down. Kids and staff were now free to go about what they were doing, as long as they stayed inside the school building. The kindergarten classes resumed eating lunch.
I walked to the office to leave the tickets and put the desk that I had used back in it's place. After about 10-15 minutes, we heard the principle once again on the speaker system. We were now to go back into full lock down.
At this point, I was in the rotunda, the entrance to the school and a couple of police officers were guarding the front door. I then watched as a trio of officers walked through and headed upstairs, one carrying what appeared to be an M-16 assault rifle. I knew then that this was more than a drill.
I headed into the office with the rest of the staff, and listened for tidbits of information over the radio. Apparently, a person in a vehicle, drove down the road next to the playground and communicated some sort of threat to a group of 4 boys. One of the boys mentioned that there might be a gun involved. Hence the lock down.
Now, as humans, we tend to hear things, but then relay them differently than we hear them, or in a panic we convey things with different intentions that are expressed. There was some confusion with the result being, for the safety of everyone, that the interior of the school would need to be swept by officers and cleared for safety.
An hour and a half went by. We didn't know anything. The news crews started showing up. We read the headlines on the internet, nothing we didn't already know, but still not enough to really know what was going on. We wouldn't find out the details until later.
Around 2pm, we finally got the all clear. Parents had started congregating, some panicked, wanting to retrieve their kids. I can understand. I was on the inside, but still had no contact with my kid. I felt secure knowing that he was with his class and teacher, I knew that they would follow safety protocol. In fact, I didn't get to see my kid until most of the walk up / car rider parents had picked up their kid.
I won't go into all of the nitty gritty details, but I was honored to be allowed to help get the kids to the parents waiting outside, and then assist with loading the rest of the kids on the buses. While parents were anxious, I felt that the overall response was that of respect for the police force and school staff. It took some time to get all of the parents and kids matched up, but considering the circumstances, everyone was very patient.
The last bus rolled back into school just before 5pm. I drove by later on my way to pick up some bikes and the campus was still, peaceful.