Last week I had one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I had to go grocery shopping, a super normal occurrence for me. So I loaded up both kids and we set off to Walmart. Again, I’m there enough they know the kids by name. I loaded both kids in the shopping cart and I gave them snacks to eat while I did my shopping. This game plan is the only way that I keep my sanity and get most of the groceries on my list. It was our normal routine for shopping.
We moved to the back of Walmart to get the milk. We ALWAYS need milk. I was making my way down the chips aisle when I heard loud bangs. I honestly didn’t think anything of it because when we first came in the workers were moving pallets around to change the displays. That quickly changed when I heard the yelling and the sound of people running. I couldn’t figure out what they were saying or why everyone was running. I mean it was Walmart so there was no telling what was going on. Then I caught the one word that was being repeated by every employee “Shooter! Shooter!”. I look to the other end of the aisle and see even more people running out, all yelling “Shooter”. Then it hit me. My kids and I were in an active shooter situation.
When I realized that we were in a dangerous situation I knew we had to get out of there. I immediately started running and pushing the cart with both of my babies as fast as I could toward the exit. However, the carts are very hard to push loaded with groceries and two kids. I ran into the cooler stationed in the middle and turned the cart over. At that time my kids, who never stop moving, stood immobile. I pushed them towards the door yelling for them to run. First Zoey fell. As I scooped her up and pushed her to run again I watched Cannon get jostled and he fell. At this point I screamed “my babies, my babies” just so that the people running would know there were children there. Two vendors actually scooped up my children and cradled them as they ran outside. The older gentleman that was carrying Cannon tripped and fell in the doorway. He pushed Cannon towards me, still creating a barrier between my son and the inside of the building.
Once we were outside, I immediately looked for a low lying area that was behind a barrier of some sort. That meant that Cannon and I headed toward the ditch behind Walmart, behind a line of trees. I saw the vendor carrying Zoey running in the opposite direction. I screamed for her. He immediately brought her back and stood between the building and us. I can honestly say that I have never been more terrified for my children than at that time.
I immediately tried to get in contact with Nick. Due to the nature of his job, he isn’t allowed to have his phone with him at times. I didn’t have his office number because I had a new phone. I called EVERYONE that I could think of to get in contact with him. I even called his chief, who is absolutely amazing. She was on the ball to make sure we were ok as soon as she found out. I even called the spouses of the nightshift crew looking for a way to get hold of him. I know that he couldn’t do anything in an active shooter situation but I will be damned if he wouldn’t know of our whereabouts in the case there was a way to get the children out. I finally got hold of one of his coworkers and a mutual friend. I do find it odd that she was in an “active shooter” training when I called to tell her that we were in an “active shooter situation”. She immediately made the calls necessary to get hold of him and everyone that needed to know.
By now the kids are playing in the ditch. Oh the blessed young mind was just excited mommy was letting them get dirty. The sound of sirens was everywhere but there were no more gunshots. The atmosphere seemed to change from terror to bewilderment. People began to come out of hiding and mill around. I, however, didn’t let the kids out of the ditch until we talked with the police. I knew well enough not to race back into a building that could hold an additional shooter. We were safer where we were and that was where we would stay until I knew it was clear.
Eventually word reached the people behind the loading zone that the shooter was in custody. We came out of the ditch but I still didn’t go back into the building. I couldn’t take my children back into the place that was such a threat to their safety so recently. And apparently I wasn’t the only person who felt that way because there were several of us that were loitering around the back. One of the employees went in to get my purse and brought it to me. I thanked the two men that carried my children out. I found out they were father and son but didn’t get their names. I wish that I had, they will always be the shining point in this event.
I freely admit at this time I was unsure of what I needed to do. During the event, the kids’ safety was the most important thing. I had a plan and focused on that. I was making sure they were as safe as I could make them. Now that the threat was over, I didn’t know what the next course of action should be. I had gotten in touch with Nick and knew he was on the way. I however couldn’t get to the van without taking the kids through the crime scene. I was NOT doing that. Plus with the adrenaline still coursing, I knew I wasn’t ready to drive. So we stayed in the empty area of the parking lot near a grassed area and the kids played. A police officer came to check on us. Cannon ran up to him and hugged his leg. Zoey waved like she was in a parade. The police officer took the time to hug Cannon back. He kneeled down to eye level with Cannon and said “Isn’t it neat that Walmart is having a fire drill like they have at school? You are such a big guy for helping mommy and your sister out”. He didn’t need to do that. I’m sure he had so much more going on that day than to comfort my little family.
Nick finally arrived. This was a feat in itself considering all traffic was rerouted and not allowed to enter the parking lot. He had to go in a back way to an adjacent parking lot to get to us. But he got to us. He went to get the van. On his way up there a Walmart employee said “Sir, Walmart is closed for the day”. I find this funny because the entrance was taped off with crime scene tape, emergency vehicles littered the parking lot. Nick said “I know. I’m trying to get to my van. My family was in there.” He walked forward and told a police officer that he was trying to get our van because he didn’t’ have car seats for the kids and it was the only way for us to leave. The police officer said “The brunette with the ponytail, daughter with one hand, and son running around like crazy?” Yep, that was us. He escorted Nick to the van but wouldn’t let him approach until he did a sweep of the van for bullet holes and/or bullet casings.
Following this event there has been lots of conversations. * I DO NOT know for certain and these should be taken only as what I have heard.* I have heard that this was a very specific targeted event. It was a couple in a domestic dispute. The victim was working on the premises and the shooter made her leave at gunpoint. The victim did die from gunshot wounds. The sheriff was pulling into the parking lot and watched the incident occur and almost immediately took the shooter into custody. Again, I was hiding my kids in a ditch because I didn’t know the whole situation but knew that my kids were in danger so this is what I have heard.
Some people say that this has been blown out of proportion because it was a domestic dispute. I completely understand your point of view. I get it. But I will always remember this as a terrifying experience. I did not know how many people where shooting. I did not know where they were located. I did not know how many people were targets. But I did know my kids were in danger. And I did know that it was my job to keep them safe and the only way to do this was run and hide. I do know that I have never felt more helpless. I do know that I still feel like a failure because I couldn’t get my children out fast enough, that I needed help getting my children out. But I do know that given the situation or any like it, I will ALWAYS do what I need to do to make sure the kids are safe.
Many people have also focused on the hate that a person must feel to carry out such a situation. Again, I get it! But I am choosing to look at the positive. I choose to remember my dad being hours away on Google Earth trying to find an escape route for his babies. I choose to remember the way that my friends have called and checked on all of us and made all the calls I couldn’t in the middle of the situation. I choose to remember how my husband’s squadron rallied around him and his family to make sure we were ok. And I choose to remember the two stranger who scooped up my children and ran with them out of the building and out of danger, shielding them with their own bodies the entire time. Because I know that despite all the ugly in the world, there are still amazingly, beautifully good people in the world.