I’d sometimes wonder what it felt like to live in Israel. Terrorism literally at one’s doorstep, 24/7. How did people go about their daily business? How were moms able to feel secure about the safety of their children when they were sent off to school each day? Were shoppers constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity? Did commuters ride the buses wondering if that day would be their last? And even now, how do the Israelis accept that life goes on, such as it is? Death staring them in the face in the form of any passerby.
I now know the answer to all these questions…yesterday there was a shooter in our midst.
The day was warm, my husband even commenting he thought it was hot out. “Pleasant” I thought, as we drove leisurely through the neighborhood on our way to visit a nearby flea market, and then lunch at Molbak’s, my favorite garden nursery. Pulling out onto the main road, then making the first right onto another road which we frequently use to get to the freeway, we quickly noticed a commotion ensuing.
A police car blocked the road just before the high school. Cars ahead of us were furiously making u-turns. As one SUV slowly approached our car going in the opposite direction, the driver slowed down as if wanting to explain what was happening. Not comprehending at first, my husband was slow to react. Female intuition led me to believe something was definitely amiss so I insisted he roll down his window.
The driver of the SUV, probably a student, told us that we should turn our car around because the school was under lockdown and that there was a shooter. As she spoke these words, we could hear a volley of gun shots ring out. Even now as I sit here typing, a chill runs through me as I think back to that moment. That was the first time I’d ever heard the sound of live shooting.
Not waiting to make a u-turn further ahead, my husband turned our car around as soon as the SUV drove on. As we made our way the short distance back to the main road we could see people collecting on the sidwalks, obviously wanting to view the action. “You crazies!” I thought. “You could soon become embroiled in the action!”
We soon discovered that trying to make our way through town via the main road was slow going. Traffic was beginning to back up. Fear had me in its grip moreso than my husband, always the calm one. So I asked him to turn around and head in the opposite direction taking the long route out of town. As we drove onto the graveled parking lot of a Lutheran church I asked him to roll down his window. I wanted to tell a woman sweeping the nearby sidewalk to be careful because there was a shooting in the area. Smiling, she thanked us. But as we pulled away it didn’t seem she took the situation too seriously.
(Am I the only person with a vivid imagination approaching that of Stephen King‘s? Tell me there’s a shooter walking around blasting gunshots willy-nilly, and I know to run for my life…away from the action!!!)
Leaving town, my husband and I commented on how surreal everything seemed. Everyone going about their business, including us, with only several handfuls of people at the heart of the shooting, caught up in a life and death situation. News reports trickled in from the car radio. And when I stopped in at the flea market where my friend Cindy had rented a table, my husband searched for news of the shooting on his laptop.
Shaken by the news, Cindy immediately called home to ascertain the whereabouts of her 2 high-school children. Thankfully neither were attending any of the scheduled activities held yesterday. According to the news, a football game had been underway when the shooting commenced. Coaches were instructed to hunker down under the bleachers with their players, along with those watching the game, until given the all clear by the police.
Not only did I share the news with Cindy, but using my cellphone I also called a neighbor and alerted her to what was happening. Her daughter, also a neighbor living across the road from us, often jogs past the high school. Sometimes her young son and daughter accompany her on their bikes.
I also made a call to the veterinarian where I take my cats. Sandy, who answered, said they had no idea that anything untoward was occurring in the streets around them. The office was only a few blocks from the shooting. Before hanging up, Sandy half-jokingly exclaimed that she would lock the door. Heck! I’d have bolted the door and crawled under the desk, or hidden in the back rooms!
Getting home was a trick. We thought we’d stayed away from town long enough, returning in the early afternoon. The news confirmed that the shooter had been killed. But after 2 attempts via the normal routes, we made our way back along the route which we’d taken when exiting town. As expected, the police were stopping cars from entering that way as well. Fortunately the state trooper who peered into my husband’s window let us pass when told where we lived. Otherwise we’d arranged to chill at friend Sylvia’s, the next town over, until permitted to return home.
What we learned from the evening news is that the shooter was a 51 year-old man who parked his car at the intersection of our town’s main road and the road leading into the middle-school. Exiting his car with a couple of shotguns, he made his way through the school compound, over the hill and past the community center, headed toward the elementary school and the nearby high school. Somewhere along the way the shooter began blasting.
A young boy standing within in gunshot range, felt the bullets whizzing past. He high-tailed it home. A man who was also interviewed in the broadcast said that when he stepped outside at the sound of gun shots, he saw a group of teens running towards him. Once they gathered inside his locked garage, the man said some of the boys were so shaken, they wanted to vomit. One asked if the man was prepared with guns of his own if confronted by the shooter. The reply? In a town like ours, who’d have thought guns were necessary.
I’m certain the fact that a shooting range located behind the high school, having been there for many years, will not figure into what happened yesterday. But for one who has never grown up around firearms, the range’s presence in our midst remains disconcerting.
On September 10th when my husband and I flew to Amsterdam enroute to Southamtpon, England where we boarded the Queen Mary II for a dream vacation, we were glad, as was our daughter, that we wouldn’t be touching down in the U.S. on 9/11. Like everyone else we were skittish about air travel on the anniversary of the “Mother” of all terrorist attacks. Needless to say, Americans everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Times have changed. Life holds little value for some. (As yet, the shooter’s motive has not been determined.) And with that reality, all our lives are on the line…everyday…everywhere. Now I understand how the Israeli people have managed to eke out a semblance of normalcy amidst the daily threat of being extinguished.
…life is precious…a gift, really…to be treasured…until destined to be returned…