“Mommy, there’s a shooter,” my daughter whispers through the phone.
I’m dumbfounded. I recently took a class at work about active shooters and what to do if you run into one. I try to remember what I learned.
“Hide,” I say. “Get down and be quiet.”
I can tell she’s trying not to cry, “We’re in a closet. I can’t get down. It’s too crowded.” I’m at a loss for words.
“I love you,” I say, my voice cracking.
My husband mouths, “Be strong.” I nod.
“I love you,” I say again.
“I love you too, Mommy.”
What the hell am I supposed to say? “Stay down and be as quiet as you can,” I repeat. “Can you lock the door?” I remember the class said to barricade yourself in an office if you could.
“Kinda. Two guys are barring the door with a mop and a how-tall-are-you sign,” she speaks so quietly I can hardly hear her, but I don’t want to tell her to speak up. “Mommy, can you call 911?” I can hear her fear.
“Absolutely,” I say. “I love you, Kendall,” I whisper again.
“I love you too, Mommy.” I hang up and start to dial 911.
“Why did you hang up?” my husband asks. I shrug. I realize it was dumb.
“She said to call the police,” I say somewhat defensively. “We could have called on my phone,” he says quietly.
“Oh. I panicked.”
He nods, “Do you want to go get her?”
I fly off the bed, dial 911, and start getting dressed. “Yes!”
“Hello, this is 911. What is your emergency?” I try to modulate my voice because I feel like screaming.
“My daughter’s at Great America, and there’s a shooter.”
Calmly, the operator says, “Let me connect you to Santa Clara. This is South City.”
I wait, shaking, trying to pull on my boots, wondering how my daughter must feel, wondering what the hell is going on, imagining her with a gunshot wound lying in a pool of blood. The phone starts ringing, connecting me to Santa Clara 911. It rings and rings and rings and goes to voicemail. “Oh, my God!” I call 911 again.
“This is 911. What is your emergency?” the operator asks.
“My daughter is at Great America, and there’s a shooter! Santa Clara 911 goes to voicemail,” I barely manage not to scream.
“Let me give you the direct line to the police station.” the operator says.
My chest is tight. I try not to panic. “Thank you.”
I dial the police station. It rings and rings and goes to voicemail. My phone’s on speaker. “Oh my God,” I scream.
My husband says, “They know. Everyone is calling them. They know. Should we go?” I exhale, trying to calm down, but I feel like I can’t catch my breath. What is happening with my baby?
“Yes, let’s go,” I say as I head toward the door.
We get in the car. “I shouldn’t text her. It will light up her phone. Same with calling. We’ll have to wait.” I imagine her crouching in a dark room, terrified, waiting to get shot.
My phone rings. It’s Kendall. It’s a little after 11 pm. “Hello?” I hear lots of people crying. “We’re safe, Mommy. The police said we could come out.” She’s crying too. “Thank God!” My voice cracks again.
Relief washes over me. “Do you need us to pick you up?” She has to yell over the people crying around her, “No, Sasha’s mom is picking us up. They left the park to find parking. They’re coming right now. The police are evacuating us.”
I take a deep breath, trying to get control of my emotions. “Be strong,” I tell myself while thinking, “What the hell? She’s going through this without adult supervision?” I’m not happy, but I remember that she’s 17. She’s a good girl. She doesn’t need a babysitter.
“I’ll stay on the phone with you until you’re in the car.” I can hear her telling her sobbing friend, “It’s OK. We’re safe now.” Typical, we called her Florence Nightingale in grade school because she always mothered the other children.
When she’s safe in the car, I hang up and look at my husband, “Scariest half hour of my life.”
He pats my leg, “Next time if there is a next time, and I hope to God there isn’t, but if there’s an emergency like this, don’t hang up. Stay on the phone with her until she’s safe.” I nod and say again, “I panicked.”
I’m waiting in the front yard when she gets home. It’s just before midnight. We hug and cry. “Do you want me to sleep with you?” I ask. It’s as much for me as it is for her. I wonder how I’m going to let her out of my sight after this experience. “Yes,” she agrees. All night, it’s like she’s a newborn again. Every time she moves, I wake up. I finally get out of bed at 5 am, finished with not sleeping.
It turns out there wasn’t a shooter. A gang of thugs wanted to rob people in the park and created a “shooter” diversion by yelling, “There’s a shooter! He’s got a gun!” Chaos ensued.
The next day, and for a few days afterward, I hear Kendall’s voice, whispering in my head, “Mommy, there’s a shooter.” “Mommy, there’s a shooter.”
I don’t know how to reconcile my feelings. I don’t think it’s the shooter, but rather my shattered belief that I can protect the ones I love; that going to an amusement park is only terrifying when you ride the rides. Nothing happened to me. Nothing happened to my daughter. There was no real threat, but the most terrifying 30 minutes of our lives changed us both forever.
We both realize, now more than ever, that life is short. I can’t live in the future or past. I need to live in the present moment. Eat it up like it’s the best piece of chocolate I’ve ever tasted because none of us gets to know when it ends.