WTF is happening in this country? It seems as if there are insane gunmen gone wild on a daily basis, shooting up schools, malls, theaters, you name it. My son's personal account of one of these crises is below.
So is it time to "have a conversation" about responsible gun regulation yet? Because apparently there is no waiting period for Fox personalities to convulse when someone like, say, Bob Costas expresses an opinion.
But back to the latest of many rampages.
Today I woke up to this breaking news: Connecticut grade school shooting: 1 death reported amid lockdown. An AP news alert just popped up on my cell saying that 26 were shot dead including 18 children. This story came on the heels of the lockdown at Cal State Fullerton where my son, a student there, endured what I'm calling "quiet chaos," as is confirmed by this L.A. Times report:
As the night wore on, many students became restless and hungry.
Many students and staff who remained in other buildings on campus, such as the library and dorms, began to walk off the campus, though they were not officially released.
“It’s just getting to the point where they’re hungry and they’re letting themselves out,” Fullerton Police Sgt. Jeff Stuart said. He said police did not have enough personnel to keep people inside the buildings.
Not enough police, huh? Must be because of all those layoffs of all those union "thugs."
That report is absolutely true, as you will see below. Students were left to their own devices, unattended, vulnerable, and many simply wandered around until they found a spot where they felt safe and comfortable. Security was a big question mark. Finally, after several hours, some, including my son, simply left. Others who were in locations closer to the search hid under desks in the dark, doors barricaded, per Facebook reports that my son read. Those closer to the "action" stayed until well after 11 p.m. and were escorted out by SWAT teams.
But the overall impression was one of quiet chaos. Nobody outwardly panicked. Rather ambiguous announcements came over loudspeakers, emails were sent out (that were left unread by many, often because phone batteries died), and procedures were deficient. The word "lockdown" wasn't used, the word "shelter" was. Shelter as in overhang? As in out of the rain? Student's weren't sure. Who, if anyone, was able to lock classroom doors from the inside? Nobody seemed to know. Was the university prepared? Well, it had pretty good security, but it didn't communicate specifics that students needed, nobody went looking for them, and "shelter" meant something to those in charge, but apparently not to the kids... who didn't know what to do.
My son had a class from about 3 to 6 p.m. in a second story room that opened to an outdoor walkway. The door wasn't locked, and the professor may or may not have had a key. See, he only comes for one class once a week, the room is shared with other classes, so the door remains open, and there is no obvious locking mechanism like a deadbolt that a student or teacher could work. So the only obvious way to "lock out" would be with a key.
My son's class was about to take a break at about 4 when an announcement came over the speaker: "If you're currently 'sheltering,' stay where you are. If you are outside, then evacuate campus immediately." It didn't say why. Nobody had any idea. A few people went outside, looked over the railing, milled around. Nobody saw anything, so they went back inside to "shelter," not sure what to do next. Then a few people received campus email on their cell phones.
The professor left the room since it was break time. People wondered what was going on. Within a few minutes, some got personal messages or looked up news sites on their phones and discovered there were a number of armed robbers ("attempted murderers" per TV news reports) on the loose and some had ended up near or on campus.
Here is a chronicle of the school emails that my son finally found in his inbox after the fact:
4:18: This is University police dept. Please shelter in place until further notice. There is a possible dangerous suspect on campus in the Langsdorf Hall area. We will update you as soon as possible.
Students shared that email with the class.
4:41: From university police department and the university administration: If you are sheltering in place, remain sheltering in place. If you are outside a building, please exit the campus immediately. (The loudspeaker announcements were duplicates)
My son found these to be ambiguous: "So if you go outside, can you then leave? Can I put myself in the position to leave that way? Can I go outside so that I can 'exit the campus?'"
6:41: Campus update. If you are off campus, please stay away until further notice. Tonight's classes are canceled. If you are sheltered in place, please remain calm and stay where you are. If you are outside of a building, please exit the campus. Police are searching the campus for a possible robbery suspect.
Three hours after the first message, the very unambiguous word "lockdown" was finally used:
7:15: President of the university: To reiterate, if you're inside a university building, on lockdown please remain until you are notified by campus police that you should evacuate. If you are outside, evacuate campus immediately.
7:21: Update: Police are continuing their search. If you are on campus continue to remain calm, sheltered in place, and we will keep updating you as soon as possible. Tonight's classes have been canceled.
8:47: CSUF update: We appreciate your patience. Police are continuing their search of the campus. Continue to shelter in place. We will update you as soon as possible.
10:53: University update. Police are beginning to clear building occupants. Please remain in place until directed by police or audio announcement. Thank you for your patience.
11:52: CSUF important message. All building are now clear and occupants are free to leave. Please take care in leaving the campus. We apologize for the lateness but we want to make sure everyone is released to go home.
My son got home at 8:30.
After the first message, I felt this way: In the past, messages like this have always been a test. Now that it wasn't, I was alarmed, and I thought of the Cal State San Bernardino shooting. I'm at a Cal State school. Is this a related emergency?
So it appeared that the university was getting messages out, but what they tried to communicate was confusing. Specifics would have greatly helped, and so would clearer wording.
Now for a more disturbing sequence of events that my son experienced. He was texting me throughout all of this, but his battery was low, so for awhile we exchanged short messages like, Son: "In class. Scary." Me: "Are you safe?" Son: "I hope so." Me: "I love you." Son: "I love you too."
As the news broke over the loudspeaker, the professor seemed a bit "confused" (son's word) and pretty apathetic. Here are my son's observations:
He's very work-oriented and wanted to get through as much of the school work as possible, he's pretty obsessive about that. He didn't say much, so people asked him whether they should stay or leave. He said, "It seems like we fall under 'sheltered,' so let's switch gears and get back to the material... Can we switch gears now and continue our discussion?" He almost seemed annoyed or impatient each time the speaker would announce, interrupting him. He seemed inconvenienced. "Get on with it."
I just wanted to leave. I couldn't believe people were going to talk about class material or that they could even concentrate on that when all I could think about was my safety.
Everyone carried on as if we were not affected. After one of the alerts, people were asking if they should leave. The professor asked, "Do you want to go to the 3rd floor, would you feel safer if we did that?" As this happened, an announcement said to stay where we were, so we stayed.
They stayed... in an unlocked room with a door exposed to the outdoors and to the rest of campus.
The class carried on, I wasn't really listening. An announcement would come on occasionally. At the end of every semester, students fill out evaluations of professors, and as we do this, there's a rule that the professor has to leave. So he said, "I'm gonna leave, you can hand your evaluations in." And he left. Everyone just went along with it, I was uncomfortable, but I filled it out. The class waited, not knowing if it was safe to leave. The professor didn't seem to realize how serious the situation was.
Finally the class decided to leave (it was about 5:45) to go home, knowing the next class was canceled. We got downstairs, heard another announcement, and decided to stay in an indoor hallway and figure out what to do. Someone went outside to talk to the campus police who told us the street was blocked off and the campus was surrounded by police. We couldn't access certain parts of campus or the street.
We waited, tried to figure out what to do. Someone opened a laptop to catch some news clips. Then we saw someone in the hallway from another class who invited us to join them in classroom that had a door that locked. It wasn't clear that we should all be locked down. People were outside, in hallways, not sure what they were supposed to do. I was scared, others didn't seem to be, and we were asking what to do.
The person's class was having a potluck, so why not? We ate a little and watched YouTubes, since the teacher in that class was welcoming, calm, and had settled everyone in after the initial startling news. Finally, four of of us decided to leave.
Campus police stopped us on way to our cars telling us we had to get to our cars by walking all the way around perimeter of campus. We ended up going back to class to ask for ride to our cars.
We were about to leave, but then another student came in and said police heard shots fired nearby; get back into the classroom.
I was even more scared. Eventually, students said uni-cops would escort people from classrooms, check IDs, and so the whole class left as a group hoping to find a cop to escort them. Outside, there was nobody around, so we walked to our cars in a safe area. I got a ride to my car.
The morning after the lockdown, the Counseling Department Chair sent an email inviting students to process the night's events. My son didn't see it until evening.
We have a lot to learn about how to handle emergencies like these, including communicating clearly, subscribing to email alerts, reading emails on a regular basis, and most important, remembering that life is all too short.
And one other lesson: There is no bad time to have a "conversation" about guns and mental health care.