Just a few days ago our idyllic beach town experienced tragedy that in the past we had only read about or saw in the news when it happened “somewhere else.” And the proximity of the event in relation to our home, our neighborhood, and our life is too scary for words, but I’ll try anyway.
This particular day was within a week of the end of the school year for both boys. After school activities had wrapped up for the year earlier in the week, so Dylan would need to be picked up from preschool (two blocks from the house) at 11:30am, and Devin would need to be picked up from kindergarten at 1:30pm.
After picking up Dylan and yapping it up with the other parents about vacation plans and kindergarten plans and how are we going to make it through the summer, Dylan and I jumped in the minivan. I decided that since President Obama was arriving at any moment for a lunchtime fundraiser at a home which happened to be very close to Devin’s kindergarten on the northeast side of Santa Monica (while the preschool and our house are more on the southwest side), I would immediately drive up to the kindergarten neighborhood. Previous visits by Obama and other presidents produce gridlock of epic proportions in Los Angeles, especially here on the Westside, and I didn’t want to be late for Devin’s pickup, so I took no chances.
I almost drove right past Santa Monica College to get to our lunch spot, but decided at the last second to head for another eatery even closer to Devin’s kindergarten than my first choice.
It ended up being a good choice. At around noon, the events unfolded something like this:
At 11:52 a.m. Friday, residents of a quiet neighborhood on the northeast side of Santa Monica reported hearing gunshots. Eyewitnesses saw a man in all black, wearing an ammunition belt and holding a semiautomatic rifle, standing outside a home engulfed in flames. Firefighters later found the bodies of two men inside the home, bodies that ended up being the perpetrator’s own dad and brother.
The gunman then accosted the driver of a Mazda hatchback, got in the car and told her to drive him to Santa Monica College. The gunman fired several rounds at random into the neighborhood with the semiautomatic rifle. Nearby, the gunman fired on a city bus from front to back, shattering windows. Passengers dived to the floor for cover. Two passengers were injured, treated at local hospitals and released.
At a parking lot at 20th and Pearl streets (our house is essentially at 7th and Pearl, and I was heading up Pearl before deciding otherwise) the suspect fired at a red Ford Explorer, hitting the driver, who died at the scene. A passenger in that vehicle later died.
Campus police intercepted the gunman on the edge of campus and exchanged gunfire with him. They continued to trade shots as the man ran toward the school’s library and shot a woman outside the building’s entrance before disappearing inside.
The woman outside the library later died at a hospital.
Inside the library, a group of people hid inside a “safe room” when they heard or saw the shooter coming. The group barricaded the door with materials found inside the room and dodged bullets the gunman fired through the drywall.
Three police officers chased down and shot at the shooter. He died of multiple gunshot wounds.
There are two handfuls of public elementary schools located in Santa Monica, a couple of which are located a stone’s throw from the areas where the tragedies took place. The district took the wise step of putting every single school in Santa Monica on lockdown, a word that by now has become a part of the vernacular of most kids in this country, including my own kindergartener. Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear him say lockdown for a couple of hours, because lockdown means no one gets out and no one goes in.
As a crowd grew in front of Devin’s school, one filled with parents who were just as eager as I was to hug their children and get them home, helicopters flew overhead and police cars with loud sirens zoomed by, adding to the surrealism of the situation. At one point all traffic came to a screeching halt right in front of our school as Obama’s motorcade passed by. Really? Today?
At that moment I felt some anxiety building up inside of me, but I had to keep my preschool son calm, which wasn’t difficult since he was pretty much oblivious to the whole situation. We began to receive text messages from inside the school saying all the kids were fine, and robo-calls from the district with warnings that the perpetrator had not yet been subdued and that the situation was definitely a dangerous, ongoing one. I was hesitant to leave the school area and my son, but since my preschooler was aching for a restroom, and I needed to feed my almost 7-month old, I retreated with another parent back to her nearby home until we received word that all was clear.
It wasn’t too long before we got that word. We practically ran back to school, and all I wanted to do was grab Devin and get back to the safety of our own home.
“Can you believe we were on lockdown, Daddy?!? Obama was nearby, so they put us all on lockdown.”
I kept all the TVs off when were all finally safe under one roof, and quickly things returned to normal. To this day my sons remain oblivious to any tragedies that have occurred around our town or even the nation for that matter, and I’m happy about that. But I know that one day they will understand when the next Newtown or Columbine or Seal Beach happens, and their innocence will be destroyed forever. And that makes me very sad.