Nothing prepares you in life for seeing a policeman step out of his cruiser with an assault rifle as big as Texas when you park in front of an elementary school to pick up your child. Believe it or not, you will tell yourself the most absurd things. The first thought that went through my mind was, "Oh, it must be law enforcement Show & Share day, and he's going to let the kids see his unloaded firearm." But when I went up to the school building and peered through the window and saw not a single child in sight, I knew.
This was a lockdown.
And it troubles me how difficult it was for me to convince other parents of that fact.
An emergency lockdown simply didn't factor into their plans that afternoon. Like most of us, their minds were caught up in what errands they had to run, when to pick up their other children from daycare, and what appointments they didn't want to be late for. A few parents were annoyed by the inconvenient "delay" while others were still trying to tell themselves everything was normal by saying that the kids must be "late coming home from a field trip."
Excuse me—every child from kindergarten to 5th grade, including all of the office staff, just happen to be gone?
"No—they're hiding," I had to inform them. "And this is the time to pray with everything you've got."
And pray we did. I grabbed several parents hands and began to pray right then and there. This is the nightmare situation that every parent dreads, and it was really happening . . .
Of course, when the sirens started to wail & the SWAT teams arrived, it got a little bit easier to convince other parents that this was, in fact, no ordinary day. And it was not going to get better any time soon.
Still, several parents complained that they should have gotten a "text" informing them of the problem. Really—so while the principal is hustling to call police and hide all the children from apparent danger, she ought to take time out to compose a message to you? Not even the four gunshots I heard outside on the other side of the building seemed to alarm anyone around me that this was for real. But when police announced that everyone had to clear the area & return to their cars & wait until further notice because this was, indeed, an emergency situation with an intruder at the school, most of the parents finally fell into shock and ceased grumbling about the disruption to their day.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited . . .
And this was by far the most excruciating part. Apparently, a middle-aged man with a suspicious backpack had been spotted lurking on school grounds the week before and had been kicked off the property by school officials. But when he was spotted lurking on the school grounds AGAIN with his same suspicious backpack, our principal took no chances and called police.
What happened next astounded me. It was only ten minutes before school was supposed to let out. The school crossing guards had already stepped out of the building to help guide traffic. Parents were already lined up to pick up their kids. Many school officials might have blown the thing off, thinking it's so late in the day—just let the kids go and have the police deal with this guy later. But not our principal. With extraordinary swiftness, she locked down that building and had her teachers hide the children so fast you would have that the school had been utterly abandoned. Police and SWAT teams arrived within mere minutes. The bushes, trees, and every shadow of the building were crawling with law enforcement personnel—and you could only spot them if you looked close. I don't blame parents for not quite acknowledging the severity of the situation—these guys were GOOD. Unless you were really scanning, you might not have noticed they were there at all.
But they were. In a sleepy mountain town in the Rockies of Colorado, these law enforcement personnel were our Angels in Disguise that day, along with the extraordinarily well-trained and effective teachers who took hundreds of cranky, tired school children late in the afternoon and expertly hid them while making sure that not a single one made a sound. Honest to god, I still don't know how they quite achieved that with so many squirrelly kids, other than they must have had magic wands.
Or perhaps angel wings . . .
Our story had a happy ending. The suspicious guy was apprehended, the grounds were cleared of any potentially hazardous materials, and the children were released, one by one under heavy police protection, two hours later. We were all very rattled—some children vomited or developed stress rashes from the frightening experience—but every child went home safe that day.
And though this might seem like an unusual Valentine's Day post, today my heartfelt Valentine goes out to all of those Angels in Disguise—the principals, teachers, secretaries, school nurses, janitors, and law enforcement personnel who make it their business, day after day, to care about the well being of our children and overall community. My heart was touched beyond belief this week by their professionalism, efficiency, and valor. You probably won't hear much about this incident in the media because creepy people hanging around schools is hardly anything new, and happy endings don't often make splashy headlines. But in my book, these individuals are the real heroes in our lives.
Even if you can't quite see their wings . . .
May your Valentine's Day be filled with warmth, chocolate, and all good things <3
A week later, a first-grade boy went missing in our town. Over 75 high school students took it upon themselves to canvas a 2-mile radius until they FOUND him! Then they phoned police and stayed with the boy until an officer arrived. Turns out the child got confused & decided to "walk" home (a several mile trip). Forget after-school programs & sports—these teens dropped everything until the little boy was safe in his mother's arms. The recent lockdown had really rattled them, and all they wanted to do was be a force of good in the world. Then they stood in line to give the mother a hug with tears in their eyes—teen boys & girls alike. If you ask me, I'd say today's youth are shaping up to be one terrific generation <3
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