I had just dropped my boys off at their elementary school on Monday morning when my cellphone began buzzing with alerts.
I don’t text and drive, so I decided to pull over and find out what was going on. I figured it must be something critical from my middle school daughter, like “Mom, I forgot my backpack” or “Mom, don’t forget to pick up a tri-fold board for the science fair.” I knew I had time to turn around and pick something up from home, if need be.
Instead, they were work-related texts. My heart sank as I read the words “Shooting at NTHS that’s all I know,” from a key source within the North Thurston Public Schools.
For the next 10 hours, I went into journalist mode, asking nosy questions, scrambling to press conferences, producing video, and helping write stories about the shooting inside North Thurston High School that didn’t injure anyone, but rocked the 1,500-student Lacey high school.
But I also went into mom mode.
Did I get a hug from my daughter before she headed out the door to catch a ride with our neighbor girl? Did I tell my boys I loved them when I dropped them off in front of their school? Will schools ever feel safe like they did when I was a kid — before Columbine, Sandy Hook, Marysville Pilchuck and so many others?
I’m pretty sure they’re the same questions that went through every parent’s mind in South Sound on Monday, no matter where their kids attend school.
My kids don’t go to North Thurston High, but I’ve covered numerous events at the school during the past decade. I know several of the teachers and school administrators. I’ve walked down the staircase from the gym into the commons area where police say the 16-year-old suspect allegedly pointed a gun into the air and fired. I’ve interviewed some of the school’s current students. Some of those interviews happened when they were in elementary and middle school.
Later that morning, I watched teens run into their parents’ arms at South Sound Stadium after school had been canceled. One girl held hands with her mom as they walked down the sidewalk. The journalist in me thought, “This is a sweet detail to remember. When was the last time my teenage daughter willingly held my hand?”
I walked closer, and overheard the girl tell her mom that she was too scared to go to school the next day. Her mom told her not to worry about it because she wasn’t going to let her go to school the next day, or the day after that. They both started crying.
The mom in me immediately took over; I walked over to my car and wept for a few minutes.
That night, I got home and immediately gave my kids some extra hugs and kisses. I made sure to tell them that I loved them at bedtime, and several more times the next morning before school.
The journalist in me knows their schools have practiced lockdowns. In fact, my daughter’s school was one of the first in the area to conduct an active shooter drill.
But the mom in me doesn’t want to think about it.