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The Knock At The Door

August 13, 2012

I was on my stomach.  My audio book was playing on my phone, and I was thinking that I was going to have to look up some pregnancy yogas in a few months if I was going to keep to my lunchtime routine.  There was a knock on my office door.  I remember being a little annoyed, but aware that if someone was at my door then something was probably wrong.

I opened the door to the student worker on duty.  “There’s been a Code Maroon.  It’s an active shooter.  We want to lock the doors, and you’re the only one here right now with a key.”

Code Maroon is the emergency notification system on campus.  Students, faculty, and staff can sign up for text or e-mail messages which will alert them to any campus wide incident.  Generally, a message from Code Maroon involves two options: Shelter in place or get the hell out.

The location of the shooting was unclear at the time of the alert, but it was almost certainly somewhere within a mile of our building.  Our Graduate Advisor thought we would do best to take the simple precaution of locking up the building.  And I was the only one with a key who hadn’t left the building for lunch.

I passed my keys over to the student worker, who dashed off to go lock all of our doors.  Though they are glass and probably not much in the way of a deterrent to a truly determined shooter, they would at least be a minor obstacle.  And the sound of someone shooting out the glass would give us time to shut all of the inner doors.  It is quite possibly one of the scariest things I have ever had to consider about my own work place, but sadly not the first time I’ve thought about it.

While the student worker was off with my keys, I went to work.  While the Code Maroon system is quite effective, it is not always the first place that people see the alerts.  Facebook is.  And Facebook falls under my “Other Duties.”  I pulled up the Code Maroon website, copied the latest status, and pasted it into various groups and pages.  Then I pulled up Twitter, the local news station, and the local newspaper.  From here on, it was all a matter of waiting.

The student workers were all huddled around the front desk, which was tuned to the local live scanner audio feed.  More updates were pouring in.  One of the other student workers has friends who live in the area.  She thinks they are probably at work, but she worries.  I listened for a few minutes, but decided it would be better if I was at my desk.  Just in case.

Within minutes of the original alert, everything was over.  But the updates were still confused.  One officer dead.  No, two.  No, none.  Shooter alive.  Shooter apprehended.  Shooter dead.  Dead civilian.  It was a man.  No, a woman.  No, it was the shooter.  Four injured.  Five.  Six.  One dead.  Two.  Three.

Over the next few hours, things would become clearer.  Once the shooter was apprehended, the doors were unlocked and we tried to get on with our day.  Our new graduate students arrived this morning and I had two new student workers to show around the office.  Business went on.  If not quite as usual, then at least as much as usual as was possible.

As far as I am aware at this time, none of my friends or family were involved.  I feel grateful for that.  And sad for those who weren’t so lucky.  In town where just about everyone is employed by the university, attends the university, or knows someone who is, we are all not very far removed from such tragedies.  At this time, the name of the civilian who was killed has not been released.  I think that right now most of us worry that his name might be “A friend.”

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