Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Remembering something I'd long ago forgotten

Janet Reid's blog today reminded me of something that I've forgotten about myself.

Well, forgotten isn't a fair word. I guess I should say that I've moved on. It's no longer something that I think about often, if at all. Every now and then a loud, sudden noise will startle me, and I'll think back to it. But I'm still here, which is a lot more than some kids got.

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the Columbine shooting. On March 22, 2001, there was also a shooting at my high school, Granite Hills.

Luckily, no one died. There had been a shooting at another school (Santana High) in our same district only two weeks prior, and as a result, we had an on-campus officer (hero) named Rich Agundez. He stopped our shooter before anyone was seriously hurt.

But the fear-- the fear of dying, the fear of not knowing what was happening, the fear of wondering if anyone you knew was dead while huddled in a small chem supply room with 100 other students-- the fear stays, and takes time to fade.

The what-ifs can consume you, too, if you let them. What if the shooter had gotten there ten or fifteen minutes earlier, like he intended, when the whole school was still at lunch? What if the shooting at Santana hadn't just happened, and there was no on-campus officer?

Obviously these are questions I can't answer, and I won't try. For something so horribly wrong, things just went right that day. Right on the path of living, right on the path of luck.

At first, there was doubt. It sounded like someone dropping one of the many voluminous metal trash cans lining the concrete hallway outside. But there was a quality to the sound that made everyone in my chemistry class freeze. We'd all just sat down and written our names on a test, and I was deep in thought about question number two when I heard the first bang. I felt my heart slide down my spine, but I was a panicky kid, and didn't think much of it. Then it happened again, and someone asked if it was a gun shot.

By this time we were all watching our teacher, except the kids in the back row, who were watching out the windows. Someone said they saw people running.

Our teacher sprang up and ordered us to move into the supply room that annexed four classrooms in the building. The other classes came pouring in, and finally the teachers closed and locked the doors and turned off the lights. We sat in the dark, and waited.

I had no idea what was going on. No one did. Some kids were talking about opening the doors to the hallway outside and seeing if they could see anything. The rest of us quickly vetoed them.

It felt like years passed in that tiny, cramped room. Some kids were crying, including me.

At long last, something happened. I can't remember if someone went out and checked, or if they came in and got us, but the SWAT team was there. We all filed out of the room one by one, hands in the air. Uniformed masks with high-powered rifles aimed at us lined the halls as we walked out and across the street to a neighboring park, to wait for our parents to come get us. No one knew what happened.

A lot of kids whipped out their cell phones and called their parents. My mom was already on her way. The rest of the afternoon passed in a flash, and all I remember after is my mom running across the street to wrap me in her arms when she finally found me.

So, my experience with a school shooting ended better than most. There were some rather minor injuries (not mine) and a lot of trauma, but no lost friends. No place I couldn't come back from.

I know it's not March 22nd. It is, in fact, Columbine's day of remembrance. But on this day, I remembered something I'd forgotten-- what it was like. And remembering what it was like made me want to tell everyone who was at Columbine, and any other schools where terrible things have happened like this, that I understand. I understand, but I can never know. I can only imagine what it would have been like if things hadn't gone right that day.

And to Rich Agundez, wherever you are, thank you, again. Thank you a thousand times.


  1. Wow, that's some pretty harrowing stuff. I can't even imagine.

  2. What a harrowing experience. It reminds you just how precious life really is. And that true heroes really do walk among us.

  3. What a powerful and terrifying experience. Each time we have a lock-down drill at my school, I pray we never have to do it for real.

  4. LT, I remember it, too. Even up here in Oceanside that's all anyone could talk about.

    You are right, for all the things that could have gone wrong...something went right that day.


  5. So glad you have this story to tell instead of a far different one - thank you indeed to Rich Agundez.