When the emergency siren went off, I was making spaghetti sauce. I instantly assumed it was a tornado warning. My boys were outside on their scooters and though I was a little concerned, I periodically glanced outside assessing the sky and the wind, figuring a weather disaster wasn’t too imminent. As the siren continued to blare, Murphy began to bark incessantly. To my relief, Ryan and Andrew returned and after finally really listening to the siren’s robotic voice, I realized this was not about a tornado.
The voice impersonally instructed us to “take shelter” in the house and lock all doors and windows. Just a few minutes earlier, my husband had called. He told me that he was heading to the Military Police Station to deal with something serious and to please not go anywhere with the kids. Wednesday evenings are when I take them to “Religious Education” classes on-post. We would not be going that night.
Now I was starting to get edgy. The doorbell rang and it was my friend’s 11-year-old son Aiden, who lives a few streets over. He was upset and his voice shook. He said his mom and sister had gone off-post to run an errand and he heard the siren and got scared. He was having trouble reaching his mother on her cell phone. I directed him and my boys to stay in Ryan’s room with the door closed as we all puzzled over what was happening. Meanwhile, Aiden got a hold of his mom (who could not get back on post now) and I turned on the local news. A somber reporter spoke of an active shooter on Fort Hood who was still at large. There was speculation that there might be two shooters. There was talk of this being an act of terrorism. There was more discussion over whether the victims were targeted or random. My stomach lurched. I checked on the boys and went online, learning where the shooter had allegedly done this heinous deed. The post was on complete lockdown and an eerie silence descended over our neighborhood. Except Murphy wouldn’t stop barking.
My friend’s husband arrived to pick up Aiden. The boys and I hunkered down with shades pulled and watched the news, growing more and more horrified. The boys alternated between outright fear and a nervous giddiness. I turned off the burner where my spaghetti sauce was simmering and forgot about it. No one was hungry anyway.
Soon the phone calls, texts and emails began, ringing and pinging like an old pinball game. I checked my Facebook page and there were numerous messages from friends and relatives expressing their concern for us and asking if we were OK. I got busy answering them, clicking from one phone call to the next and reassuring loved ones that we were fine…we were among the lucky ones. My husband occasionally texted saying terse things like, “it’s gonna be a long night” and “don’t wait up for me.”
Only five years ago, of course, there was another shooting situation that left 13 dead and more than 30 wounded. For many of those affected, the scars (physical and emotional) are still fresh and far from healed.
My heart was breaking for the victims and their families and even for the shooter’s family. This same heart was also full of gratitude for the caring, loving people who “swooped in” (albeit electronically) to check in with one another and exchange supportive words. The Army family is amazing that way. No matter how many hundreds or thousands of miles separate us, there is the sense that we are in this together. If nothing else positive came of this awful evening, there was that.
As the night wore on and the lockdown continued, I let the boys stay up later than usual to watch something silly on TV in the hopes that it would distract them from the drumbeat of tension. We eventually ate the spaghetti, though it felt like we were just going through the motions.
After the siren sounded the all-clear, my next-door neighbor and I got our dogs together in my backyard to let them run off some steam. We talked about the shootings and what our husbands were doing and how surreal this all felt. We talked about what everyone else was talking about, stunned and saddened that unpredictable, horrific events like this are becoming the “new normal.” What will my boys remember about this night and how many of these incidents will they experience in their lifetimes? Will they—will we—ever really feel safe again?
Over the coming weeks, months and years, there will be endless discussion about what triggered this soldier to allegedly do what he did. We will debate gun control laws, mental illness, and how to best tighten up security on a military installation. We will argue about whose fault it was and how we could have seen this coming. We will mourn those who lost their lives and pray for those still recovering. We will do our best to ensure this doesn’t happen again.