Of course, the students panicked, with everybody checking their phones for updates and chatting nervously, with some texting or calling family to provide updates. The administration told us not to go outside under any circumstances. About an hour later, we filed into the gym from our classrooms. They were letting us out early for the day.
Those who had cars left first, while others waited for their parents and exited the building when they heard their name over the megaphone. Everybody left except those who worked for the after-school daycare. They were asked to stay to help supervise and ensure the safety of the younger kids attending the elementary and junior high schools. I froze. That was my job, and they meant me. They asked me to stay behind—with an active shooter situation mere miles from campus. I weighed my options. I could leave anyway.
Surely they would understand, right? I thought to myself. And even if they fire me, so what? I will not put myself in danger!
This internal monologue went on for about a minute, but a minute that felt like an eternity. Finally, I took a deep breath to steady my resolve. I had made my decision, and I began my walk to work.
With palpable tension between us, I walked over to the elementary side of the school with several coworkers. We spoke a few words as we changed out of our school uniforms and into our teal work shirts and grabbed our radios and name tags. We found out that we would all be in the gym and that there would be a movie to distract the kids. And we didn’t speak a word of what had happened outside of the office as we didn’t want to frighten the kids. And that’s when my nerves started to get the best of me.
My mind began to race, and I felt panic setting in; my mind suddenly filled with questions no high school student should have to ask themselves. Where are the nearest hiding spaces and escape routes? If a shooter comes through that door, do I run or try to act the hero? If I do, what can I use as a weapon? How many coworkers or kids can I shield from harm?
While the panic never faded, I pushed through. After what felt like forever, all the kids had gone. The workers left. A friend—who also worked at the daycare—and I walked back across the eerily empty parking lot and then drove home. About five blocks from our turn to get home, we passed an apartment complex swarmed with cop cars and news helicopters that I would later find out had housed the two people who committed the attack. I made it home safely; my family and I had dinner at a nearby restaurant while helicopters circled. As I lay in bed falling asleep, I read a text from a close friend asking whether I thought things would end up ok. I gave a more hopeful answer to her, but to be honest, I didn’t know. I still don’t know.
Knowing whether things will be okay isn’t the point, though. Scary, terrible things happen all of the time, whether we like it or not. It can be incredibly easy to let fear rule our lives. I know I do quite often. But that day, I didn’t. I feared for my safety the whole time that I worked. But I didn’t run and hide; I stayed. And it wasn’t because my job required it of me or because of the minuscule amount of coffee money I received for my service. I did it because I saw other people who were scared and confused and needed help and comfort that I could provide. Sometimes we need to push through our fear and help those around us who are also afraid because sometimes, at the moment, we are all they have.
Nicholas Ault writes from the Pacific Northwest.© 2002 - 2023, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.