Last Tuesday, I drove my son to his high school and dropped him off at 8:50 a.m.
Just after 10 a.m., I got a frantic call from my wife. Our son had texted that there was a shooting at school, he was in his classroom and he was OK.
No one knew much at the time. There was a shooter, he had fled from the school. One student was injured.
I parked two blocks from the parking lot where the Seattle police Twitter account had told parents to gather. There were several hundred of us there. All facing the school, not knowing what to expect. The number swelled as other parents joined after learning what had happened.
The district tweeted a message telling families not to gather at the school. That made no sense since there were already hundreds of us there.
Though some parents clearly knew each other and were chatting, most of us waited by ourselves. We could not process what was happening.
I searched the web and discovered a report saying the victim, who was flown by helicopter to Harborview, had died. I became angry and could barely conceal my rage.
We parents waited; and waited; and waited some more. In 35-degree cold. My wife texted that they would begin releasing students at noon. They didn’t.
While some parents came dressed for the weather, I had left the house in such a hurry that I was wearing socks and sandals. I hadn’t even thought to bring gloves. Between the cold and not knowing what was happening inside the school, it was physically and emotionally excruciating.
A few community police personnel kindly brought an urn of Starbucks coffee with a few small bags of snacks.
When they finally began releasing students, all of us were relieved. We were thinking that now we would get to see our children. When the first student came out, school personnel shouted his name. They didn’t have a bullhorn, so parents had to shout the name repeatedly in order for the proper parent to hear it.
The release went terribly slowly. It seemed like they were releasing a single student every 10 minutes. I was texting my son asking if he had any idea when he would come out. He kept telling me: not yet.
At one point, he texted: “I’m sorry dad, that you have to wait so long.” The reason he could apologize to me was that he couldn’t process the emotion of what had happened. Though he objectively knew, emotionally he didn’t.
But that wasn’t the case with me. I was a wreck.
Finally, 4 1/2 hours later, they called his name. I was momentarily astonished that the thing I’d been waiting for so long had finally happened. I rushed over to the checkout table to meet him. I was so overwrought that they had to bring me back to the table to sign him out. Nor did I stop to give him the hug he deserved. I was so eager to get out of there and back to the car, I couldn’t even stop long enough to do the most important thing.
Then we drove home. He told me about his teacher who, after the shots were fired, ran to the door to lock it; but forgot her keys and called a student to bring them from her desk. Then she had to step out into the hallway because the lock was on the outside of the door. When she returned, she told her students that she smelled gun smoke in the hallway. It was that close.
Later, when we thought about it, my wife and I were shocked that the classroom doors could only be locked from the outside. We have learned that the district is replacing locks, but the work apparently has not yet been completed at Ingraham. Remember that, when you hear mayors and superintendents solemnly vow that students must remain safe in order to thrive.
Of course, I am grateful to the teachers and staff for everything they did. But the reunion process was poorly planned and executed. The longer you force a child survivor to wait in a purgatory of doubt and trauma the greater their anxiety. During such a mass tragedy, it’s critical that students be reunited with family as soon as possible. They need security. They need safety. They need the warm embrace of family.