15 02 2007

When I was in junior high, I took a class called “Cross-Age Tutoring” where I would leave school, walk across the street to the elementary school and work with the children there. In eighth grade I tutored a sweet little first-grader named Loraine in reading, in ninth grade I worked in a first-second grade combo class of hearing impaired and deaf students. It was, by far, my favorite class.

One Thursday afternoon – I’m not sure anymore, but probably about 1:30pm – I was crossing the street back to my own school when suddenly a cop car sped up, sirens blaring. I laughingly asked myself if I should pull over to let him pass. He ended up circling the block. I opened the door to the school’s entrance and the receptionist waved me in quickly, while speaking on the phone in hushed tones. I felt the air abuzz, but I still wasn’t panicking. The campus was still deadly quiet as I walked across the lunch yard to wait for my friend at her classroom. We usually walked to sixth period English together.

Standing outside the computer lab (monochrome Apples, for anyone interested), I heard an announcement from the Vice Principal that everyone outside should immediately enter the nearest classroom. I hesitated, as it wasn’t my classroom and I didn’t actually have a classroom that period, but ended up going on in.

The school went into lockdown. For several hours we were told to stay away from windows and we were not allowed to leave the classrooms even to use the bathrooms in the same locked hallway. After awhile they let us go one-by-one. My friend and I passed the time playing math games on the computer. Probably somewhere around 4 or 4:30 they began calling students one-by-one to leave via the side gate. We could not leave until our parent arrived for us. I stood in the doorway, listening to a seventh-grader sing the Tiny Toons theme song, startling each time the announced a name, let down each time it wasn’t mine. I think I was there until 5:30. I heard some kids didn’t leave until as late as 7pm.

I’m not sure when we learned the news, but what had happened was this: A man had murdered an elderly couple, family friends of his, and he was on the run. He ran through our campus and jumped the fence to the strip mall next door. Some students saw him. They broke into tears. (Oddly, this man was someone my mother had a brief crush on back in high school and he lived only around the corner from my own friend’s house. See? It is too like a small town!) He ran past Rollerskate Land, past the Fiesta Twin value movie theater where a future co-worker of mine was working at the time and witnessed him. He ran past Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and ended up on the corner of H and 5th inside the Redi-Care center. I had no idea at the time what a “redi-care” was but it will forever be etched on my brain now. He took the people inside as hostages and stayed there until Saturday at least. School was closed that Friday.

I no longer remember the outcome. Did he let everyone go? Did he kill himself? I think it ended in tear gas.

Monday we went back to school and it was all anyone talked about for weeks, of course. We were all traumatized. Safe, but terrified. Looking back, I think it was real shitty of them to let me cross the lunch area like that alone. They should never have let me leave the office. Thank God he was on the other side of the building – but just the other side! It never hit me until just now how close I came to danger that day.

Anyway, memories long healed surfaced today briefly at the playground when a gaggle of cops showed up looking like they meant business. It didn’t help that there was a school just next door – too similar. At first I was just aware, not too worried, but when it became apparent the other moms were worried, I let the panic fly. We high-tailed it out of there, and while safe, know nothing of what was going down. It was eerie – one minute the playground was abuzz with children everywhere, and within five minutes was empty and those left were heading to their cars.

Too close for comfort, yo. I was never so glad to be leaving a playground as I was today.




One response

16 02 2007

That’s how it happened! All abuzz with kids one second later we were flying to the safety of our cars leaving the playground empty…creepy.

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