Wide Awake: On Lockdown
What happens when a shooter is nearby. For real.

Here’s what happened when I got to work this morning: As I was stepping out of my car, a police officer carrying an automatic weapon shouted, “Get inside the building! Hurry!”

On my drive in, I had seen several patrol cars speeding past with lights flashing. It struck me that there were a lot – more than you would usually see responding to an emergency – and they seemed to be going especially fast. I thought, “Wow, something big must have happened.” And I was right.

When I pulled into the parking lot, they were all there – about eight police cars. The officers were walking around the parking lot, holding their guns with two hands.

I sat in my car for a minute and wondered if I should get out. There was good reason to think there might be danger outside my car, so maybe I should drive away. But my mind said, “Don’t be silly, you have to go to work.” So I did, and that’s when the officer yelled.

The urgency in his voice alarmed me, which I think was what he was trying to do, and it seems that may have caused my brain to lose some functioning. Inside our offices, another officer asked me for the building number. It’s two. First I said 1000 (which is our address). Then I said four (no idea what that is). Then I stopped myself, told myself to focus, and told him the right number. But honestly, when I told him “two,” I really wasn’t certain.

That officer told me there had been a shooting outside, the gunman was on the loose, and to tell everyone they couldn’t leave. He didn’t use the word, but we were on lockdown.

I texted everyone on our staff and told them not to come in yet. They pulled into nearby parking lots and waited.

I was standing in my building’s foyer with two young people, probably in their 20s. They had been at the doctors’ office, and they started calling their jobs to say they’d be late. Here’s the weird thing: They weren’t alarmed like I was. On the phone, they talked like this was something that happened frequently, no big deal. I was trying to keep address numbers straight in my head, and they were resigned to just wait this out.

Two older women came out of the doctors’ office, and they were not happy. One asked the officer, “How long do we have to stay here?” She made it clear he was inconveniencing her.

“It’s going to be awhile,” he said. He made it clear he didn’t care.

It hit me then that these officers, while searching for a gunman, also had to make sure everyone else remained unharmed. It was 8:30 and my office complex has three buildings, so cars were still coming in, people were walking to the door carrying their bags, and a UPS truck and a water delivery truck were parked by two different entrances. Things that happen every morning suddenly became an opportunity for something to go wrong. That was an unsettling feeling.

We kept the lights off in our offices and didn’t stand near the windows. I don’t even know how we knew to do that. I texted my family with updates and tried to find something online to fill us in on what happened. We found out later that two men had shot and killed a delivery person in the parking lot next to ours, but at that time, we didn’t know what was going on. We just knew what we could see.

By 10 am, it was over. There was yellow police tape in the back of the parking lot, but that was it. If you had been on vacation that day or had a morning meeting, you wouldn’t have even known it happened.

But it did, and I’ll never forget it. It made me wonder how people in true shooter scenarios must feel. And it made me think about my kids, who had lockdown drills in school. When something is part of high school, do you become the person standing in a foyer calmly wondering when you’ll get to leave?

I became the person who can’t remember her address, although I did recover and was able to pass on the officer’s message throughout the building. That’s when I got to see the quiet look of confusion and fear in everyone I told.

We all watch the news. We all know it can happen. But you know what they say: You never think it will happen right there in your parking lot.

August 2017
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