Shelter-in-Place – Supposed Gunman on Campus

So, this morning I learned three things about myself.

During an emergency or a possibly life-threatening situation:

A) My legs shake so bad that I can’t believe my knees don’t bruise from being knocked together.
B) I breathe unusually loud compared to other people in the same situation.
C) And I immediately feel nauseous.

What happened that I discovered these things? Here’s a brief news article for you. There was a report of a gunman on the Oklahoma City Community College campus where I work. So, what exactly happened that I learned these new things about myself? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

This morning, I was listening to audio recorded during a previously held meeting. I was typing up the minutes and getting my work done when the phones in our office suddenly announced a fire alarm. The phones announced that the fire alarm was set off in the Main Building and everyone should evacuate. Well, we weren’t in the Main Building, we were in the Library building, so we assumed we were fine. We went back to work. The Dean went down the hall to, I’m guessing, look out the window and see if the Main Building was, indeed, being evacuated.

Within minutes, the phone was sending out another alert. “Shelter-in-Place – Lock Office Doors, Turn Off Lights, Seek Shelter Behind Tables or Desks, Avoid Windows and Exposed Spaces…” or something like that. We could hear one of the Student Computer Center Supervisor’s bellowing across the lab, issuing orders for everyone to move to the designated safe place. Now, we’ve had Shelter-in-Place Drills before, but usually, we know they’re coming beforehand. So when this one sounded, we were already a bit on edge.

The Dean returned and told the two of us in the office to move into his adjoined office and to close the blinds. I immediately closed the blinds to the window that overlooks our computer lab. He entered behind us, turned off the lights, and shut and locked the door. The three of us sat in the dark, behind his desk, while he tried to keep us calm by discussing the weather and whether or not we’d had any snow this morning, as had been forecast. Though he made an attempt to divert our attention, it didn’t work very well. The secretary asked if this was a drill, and he admitted that, unfortunately, he thought it was for real this time.

We fell into an uncomfortable silence, while we were all probably straining to hear any unusual sounds out in the hallway. It seemed like forever, sitting in the dark, listening to the mini-fridge humming and the computer’s fans whirring under the desk, right next to where I sat on the floor. I can’t speak for the others, they seemed much more calm and collected than I was, but I was very worried when the warning was issued over the phone again – something about an armed individual on campus, please seek shelter.

My heart was thudding in my chest, my legs trembling, my hands shaking… I didn’t know what to expect. Suddenly, something touched the outside handle to our door and we all tensed up. The sound traveled away from us and then in just a short few moments, there was a shot fired. The Dean was on his feet, standing close to the doors, while the two of us office ladies huddled further under his desk, clinging to each other in fear.

The door handle was shook and rattled, making a terrible noise. Then it opened and people burst into the room, shouting “Put your hands up! Who else is in the room? Come out with your hands up!” We were scared, and I was a little afraid to come out from under the desk where they could see me. However, they insisted and we came out hands first. There were three or four, maybe, security guards at the door.

My memory is already, after such a short time, not sure what really happened. Was there really that many people standing at the door flashing blue-tinged lights at us?  It was definitely more than one, because one was at the door and one was inside the room. And I remember more than one point of light.

And what did they look like? Were they all men? I remember one face, I’d seen him before when a girl collapsed in the hallway weeks before, but I don’t recall any other details. I always thought I was more observant than that. I don’t remember… did they have guns? Were they drawn? Were they pointed at us? I just remember walking into the hallway, following the others.

They told us to immediately head down the hall and down the stairs to exit the building. At the end of the hall, I saw a bullet casing on the floor. I  pointed at it, dumbfounded, and said, “That’s not good…” The most obvious and most dim-witted comment, but there it was. We made our way down the three flights of stairs, stopping at each landing to peek around the corner before continuing on. Once we were at the bottom, a security guard stood at the door and pointed for us to exit the building.

So, sure, now it’s turning out that it was likely a miscommunication, and that some students were discussing a recent shooting at another campus in another state. Some bystander must have heard their conversation and thought there was a gunman on our campus, so they immediately notified security. News reports are saying the gunshot we heard in the hall was an accidental discharge from our own security. I can only imagine how they must have felt, searching the school for an armed assailant, having never had to do such a thing before.

But unremarkable as it turned out to be, while you’re sitting huddled beneath a desk, hearing gun shots, you’re not thinking that it might all be fake. You’re not thinking it might be nothing. You’re thinking that my God, there’s been a gun fired in the hallway on your floor only a short way from where you’re hiding, and will they try your room next?

It is honestly pretty scary. I’ll admit that I thought about things that seem a bit silly now, knowing that it was nothing.

When was the last time I told my parents I loved them? What were my last words to my boyfriend? Will I be able to act if something happens? Will I have the courage to help the people sitting in this room with me if it comes down to that? Or will I be a chicken-shit, cowering under a desk and worrying about no one but myself?

I really sat there wondering what kind of person I was… Is that what people think about in similar situations? Do they wonder what their true character is like? Or is that something only a writer would wonder? Because on top of that, I was already thinking about how I could use the things I was feeling for my main character. I was trying to really understand what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing so that I could use that in a story. Now, it seems ludicrous to think that’s what I’d be sitting there considering when someone is shooting a gun in the hallway.

There were a million thoughts flying through my head in the breadth of a few short minutes. I was busy trying to make a mental recording of the situation, while simultaneously asking myself if I was a coward or self-serving, while simultaneously wondering about the things I never did and all the opportunities I passed up and why?

I’m relieved to discover that there was never a gunman on campus (at least according to reports so far,) and that no one was hurt. But even though nothing “real” happened, I was still very shaken up. Perception is everything, and when you hear a gun fire off and hear the door handle being rattled and people shouting at you to put your hands in the air… you only think about how “real” those events are as they’re occurring.

Be careful out there. People are crazy… there are shootings taking place everywhere, women being attacked in parking lots in broad daylight, and always more….

And for heaven’s sake, remember to tell the people around you that you love them.

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