We had a scare yesterday. A man with a gun came to our town's middle school. On the very day Newtown, Conn.'s Sandy Hook elementary school students returned to school after a gunman ripped their lives apart, Mamaroneck Union Free School district got a taste of what could have been.
Here's the email blast that went out to all parents yesterday afternoon, including me:
Notification from: Mamaroneck Union Free School District
THIS IS TO INFORM YOU THAT ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS HAVE GONE INTO LOCK-OUT MODE WITHIN THE PAST HOUR. JUST A WHILE AGO, A SUSPICIOUS MALE ATTEMPTED TO ENTER THE LOCKED SIDE DOOR OF THE HOMMOCKS POOL ENTRANCE. WHEN ASKED TO PROVIDE HIS ID, THE CAMPUS SUPERVISOR NOTICED THAT HE APPEARED TO BE HOLDING A GUN UNDERNEATH HIS COAT AND ASKED THE INDIVIDUAL IF HE WAS CARRYING A WEAPON. THE INDIVIDUAL RESPONDED THAT HE WORKS IN THE SECURITY FIELD AND ACKNOWLEDGED THAT HE WAS ARMED WITH A GUN. WHEN TOLD HE COULD NOT REMAIN ON SCHOOL GROUNDS, HE IMMEDIATELY LEFT THE BUILDING. POLICE WERE CALLED AND RESPONDED IMMEDIATELY. AT THIS POINT, THERE IS A POLICE PRESENCE AT ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS. WE ASK THAT YOU DO NOT COME TO PICK UP YOUR CHILD UNTIL THE END OF THE SCHOOL DAY. AS A PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE, WHILE THE POLICE INVESTIGATE, WE ARE CANCELLING ALL AFTERNOON AND EVENING ACTIVITIES AT ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS. WE EXPECT TO HAVE A POLICE PRESENCE AT THE START OF THE DAY TOMORROW.
WE'LL CONTINUE TO KEEP YOU UPDATED ON THE SITUATION. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.
I happened to be at a going away lunch for one of my dear friends, surrounded by many other moms whose children attend that very middle school. (My children are younger, but my daughter's elementary was also locked down as a precaution).
On my way out, I glanced down at my iPhone, saw the email, blinked and looked at it again. It was as if I couldn't process the words fast enough to get to the part that we all wanted to know: "Where is the guy with a gun? "
There we were: a group of moms, some with kids at Hommocks school at that very second. Some shaking, some tearing up, some muttering, "Oh God, please no" reading an email to see if our children were the latest victims of senseless violence. Relief mixed with questions... He left the school. Okay. No one hurt. What if he comes back tomorrow? (Police are still looking for the man today.)
Without even really thinking it through, I headed to the middle school. Arriving to see parents racing to pickup after getting the email. Here are a few videos I shot with my phone. Here is fellow mom Lori Dente weighing in on what was happening as she waited for her 8th grade son.
Parents looked drawn, nervous, rattled and then visibly relieved once they had their children in sight. Many of the kids acted excited even happy. I heard some of them yelling, "Can you believe we are in lockdown?" Others calling out, "Channel 4 just interviewed me!!!" You can't blame them. They didn't witness horror and violence today. It was just a twist on a boring, cold Thursday in January.
So we all got lucky. The police are still looking for the man, but according to the school district, when security noticed he had a gun and asked him to leave he did so.
As a parent, I'm relieved and thankful. For the kids, the educators and security guards and for the guy.
But we would all be kidding ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that we had little control over how this day would end. The man with the gun left when asked to leave.
We are thankful that this individual, when approached and questioned by our brave campus supervisor, left quietly and that some of the immediate safety measures we have put in place since the Newtown tragedy (such as limiting school access; additional staff training and revised visiting protocol) were working today.
It's fascinating that in the days after the Newtown tragedy, the spin cycle kicked into full effect, with familiar political faces finger pointing, talking heads blustering, newspapers publishing names of registered gun owners. But in the end, the teachers, aides, administrators, parents, kids, all around the country had to keep going on. We all hugged our kids a little tighter after Newtown, but we still took them to school. We had to move on and push aside that gnawing fear, "Could this happen at our school?"
And all the while can we really answer whether we are all any closer to preventing something like this from happening again? Or did we just get lucky this time?