Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

December 9, 2023

I’ve hidden from a gunman. Twice.

Cartoon by Kevin Donovan.

The thing about emergencies is that your initial reaction is never to believe it’s actually happening. Your first thought isn’t about how to handle the crisis at hand; your first thought is “Is this real?”
Or at least that’s what I’ve noticed from being scared for my life on two separate occasions.
On my 12th day of high school, a student brought three handguns, two knives and a hatchet with him to our school and fired one of the guns into the ceiling of a first-period health class. I’ve written about my school shooting before, but never in much detail. In fact, I recently discovered that I had purposefully forgotten a significant portion of what that day held. Thoughts I had of it were fleeting and often a side-note or fun-fact about myself. No one had gotten hurt, so it just seemed like a blip in my life story. It wasn’t until I was again sitting on the floor with all doors locked, lights off and blinds closed that I realized just how much that day had changed me.
When I caught a glimpse through the window of people running through the parking lot of Normal Community High School on September 7, 2012, I wondered why. It was a simple feeling of confusion and wonderment. The next two people to arrive to our second-hour swim class had the same feeling as they asked if anyone else had also seen someone holding what looked like a gun. I had walked right past it; others were stuck in a room with it. Some had seen it and run; some had seen it and thought it was fake.
The situation seemed to be pointing towards a shooter, but that wasn’t something that happened beyond the movies and the news, so my brain formulated that key question: “Is this real?” And that’s when the PA system turned on to announce “Code Red. Code Red. Code Red.”
On August 18, 2018 I didn’t have a warning before the official alert was given that shots had been fired. I was helping a roommate carry empty boxes to her car when she saw the email notification. “Shots fired in Lincoln Park.” My first thought was a melancholy emotion similar to that conveyed by a shrug. If I had been alone, I likely wouldn’t have done anything, but my companion asked if we should close the blinds.
That’s when the feeling hit me that it was real. I said nothing as I quickly closed the kitchen blinds and turned off the lights. I walked to close the blinds in the front room and said “go to the bathroom” where we both would sit in near silence for the next half hour as we waited for the all-clear. And as I read an email that said “this is not a drill,” I had one thought – not again.
In 2012, there was an actual active shooter at my school. This time, there was not. However, the fear that I could lose my life to someone with a gun was very real. Through both experiences I was fortunate enough that my story wouldn’t end up on the ever-growing list of mass-shootings. However, the fact that I have felt the fear of knowing that an active gunman could attack and shoot me at any moment twice in my only 20 years of life is an absolutely unacceptable truth.
I cannot properly express the rage I feel knowing that my terrified reaction to these relatively small acts of crime is legitimate and justifiable based on this country’s record. A random attack blocks away and six year-old memory should not send me into a panic attack at my kitchen table. But it did. Half an hour after the all-clear, I sat sobbing and hyperventilating in front of my laptop. A friend talked me down over the phone because she was too afraid to walk across campus to be with me. She was afraid to walk down the hall to get her laundry. These reactions are not considered overreactions to a situation declared unhostile, but they should be. It should be strange that a student has an anxiety attack 30 minutes after the potentially dangerous situation has ended.
This event knocked the perspective into my life that I could get shot on any day in any place simply because I live in America. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of guns, but I am. Not only because of the increasingly high numbers of mass shootings in this country but because I have experienced the fear of guns – the fear of being shot – up close twice.
A gun is a violent and deadly piece of machinery and unless it is necessary for your profession, you should not have one. If you do, people like you are the reason I am afraid. And I should not have to be afraid.
I saw a young boy and his father given a campus tour once. They passed by me in a campus building, and as they did, I caught a glimpse of the pistol the older man was carrying on his hip. I also saw his handcuffs, so I assumed he was carrying legally, but the sight of that weapon on my campus in that building sent my heart rate soaring. I was afraid.
Cartoon by Kevin Donovan

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I’ve hidden from a gunman. Twice.