By: Erin Rose Hennessy
Everyone has probably heard of the expression “well, that escalated quickly.”
That phrase was in true form earlier this week. It was a Tuesday night and I was “allowing” myself to stay up just a little later playing Minecraft. As a very creative person who loves building, houses, and maps, Minecraft is one of those games that just cannot get boring for me. I wasn’t quite finished with a portion of a house I was making so I stayed up just a little bit later. That proved to be a terrible, terrible decision.
To set the scene, I live directly across from a university in my town. Their front lawn faces mine, and they have a big expanse of woods on the south side of their campus, which is a very popular area for students and residents alike to take a stroll through. They also have a duck pond and flower gardens, so this is a very heavily frequented place by families, children, students, and neighborhood folks.
I noticed the police cars first. There were three, parked right outside my apartment building. One of the spotlights was shining directly into my field of vision so I had a hard time seeing much but I could see flashlights moving quickly through the woods as if the officers were in search of something. My first thought was something along the lines of either a missing kid or some sort of police chase that ended on foot.
I was about to shrug and shut down my tablet for the night when it pinged to notify me that my coworker was messaging me. Now, some of you are probably thinking “for God’s sake, do not read that!” but I did. I read the words “active shooter across the street!” and I immediately went into panic mode. My brain read that as “oh, crap, someone is just picking people off one by one” so of course, I logged into my web browser to find out what all the panic and alarm is really about.
Initially, the story was reported as an unarmed security guard for the school was doing his rounds. As he walked through the woods, he encountered a man who apparently shot him in the shoulder when the guard asked him to leave. The guard was transported to the hospital where he was treated and released. For those of you asking “overkill, much?” yes, there is more to this story.
So, because there was supposedly this crazed gunman on the loose, the police reacted quickly, efficiently, and soon enough there were dozens of police officers, several canine units, and a police helicopter on the scene looking for a dude who had a gun and couldn’t be located. They put the university on lockdown and told nearby residents to stay inside, lock their doors, and call 911 immediately if we spotted anything suspicious.
Of course, the thoughts running through my mind, and I’m sure the rest of my neighbors and the students on campus, were so traumatic and so panic-inducing, that sleep was elusive for many people that night. The neighborhood lockdown was lifted at midnight, and the campus was given the all-clear at 2 AM after a very thorough search by police officers and campus security personnel. Even though they had not caught a suspect, they were confident that there was no threat to public safety.
I finally fell asleep at 1:45 AM that morning. I get up at 5:30 for work.
The next day, the real truth came out. I’ll leave out the choice expletives I used when I found out.
The security guard had brought his own gun to work. Guns are not allowed on university grounds, which is why their guards are unarmed. He brought his own gun and was “handling it” when it went off, and he shot his own self in the shoulder. When asked why he made up this elaborate story, he claimed he was “afraid he would get fired.”
Well, he got fired from his job. He also got arrested for filing a false police report.
This is a prime example of how one lie can make a world of trouble. Not only did this guard lie to the police officers and his place of employment, he terrorized the university’s students and the neighborhood. None of us knew there wasn’t a crazy gunman on the loose. We all reacted as if our lives were in danger, because we didn’t know they weren’t. I’m a little bothered by some comments against the students and neighboring community, saying “we were never in real danger” or “we shouldn’t need therapy or counseling” or “we were merely inconvenienced.”
Here’s the thing. Even for people without anxiety, that night was terrifying. All of us thought we could potentially become the next victim, that a gunman was going to bust in looking for a hiding spot or another person to kill. The whole neighborhood was on alert, and I can only imagine what it was like for the students locked down in their dormitories, not able to leave or get any sleep before classes the next day. I am offended by people saying that this was an “inconvenience.” An inconvenience is when you run into rush hour traffic, or your favorite restaurant is closed on your birthday (true story). This was far from inconvenience. I think the students especially, but also the neighborhood, has the right to ask for what they need to recover from this instance. In this day and age especially, we all understand how very real this threat can potentially be.
I would like to thank the dozens of police officers who did ensure public safety, though. I felt safer with them there and even told myself “If you’re really scared, look out the window. The police are right there and will hear you.”