Those were the words that appeared on the text alert on my cell phone.
It was ten years ago, and I was living in Wisconsin with my wife and young son. I was alone in our house, just a few hundred yards from the college campus where both my wife worked and I was a student.
Stay inside and close all the window blinds. Do not leave your building. The message continued.
My wife was in her office building, a couple of blocks down the street from our house, while our son was in the day care centre, also on the college campus.
I have never felt so helpless or so scared. My loved ones were both a short walk away, but I couldn’t run to them.
I closed all the blinds and hunkered down at home. Double-checked the doors were locked. Kept my phone close by. Logged onto my laptop to check all email communications from the college.
A suspect had been seen running through the campus grounds with a gun in his hand. Until the police could secure him, we were all on lockdown. Students were stuck in their classrooms or in their dorm rooms; staff were stuck in offices and classrooms; my son was stuck in his day care centre.
All kinds of terrible scenarios ran through my mind; what if the shooter opened fire in the day care centre? What if they stormed into my wife’s office building and shot her? What if they came down our street and fired randomly into houses? Should I sit upstairs or hide in the basement?
The waiting and worrying went on for several hours until, finally, the lockdown was eased. The suspect had been seen throwing a gun into a hedge, which was then revealed to have been a replica; it wasn’t a real gun after all.
Whenever there’s news of a massacre in the US, especially in schools or colleges, I always think back to how it felt to be under threat from an active shooter (albeit in that case it was a false alarm). One of the reasons we left the US to move back to the UK was because we didn’t want to live in a society where our children could be murdered at school.
In Wisconsin, it is legal to carry a concealed weapon. Our local public library (where I worked) had a simple “no guns allowed” sign on the door. It was not very reassuring. As staff, we had active shooter training, which in the US is as routine as fire drills in the UK. We watched a government video which advised three courses of action: Run, Hide, Fight Back.
In other words, if you can you should escape the situation (i.e. run out of the building). If that’s not possible, you should hide. The last option is to fight back against the active shooter in whatever way you can. In the past, the official advice had been to ‘play dead’, but after analysing previous massacres, they had discovered that the murderers will often go back to rooms and shoot people again, just to make sure they really are dead.
None of this training is very reassuring, and now that I work in education (in the UK), I cannot believe that teachers in the US would feel any safer, either, after receiving this training.
As of 25th May 2022, there have already been 213 mass shootings in the US. Here’s the full list.
When will it stop?