A Shooting at My Son's High School
One mom recounts how the shooting at her son's school in her sleepy suburban town changed her
Editor's note: Read Kelly's son's version of this story here.
As a child, I was not exposed much to guns. We had a BB gun that we liked to shoot aluminum cans with in the backyard, and my relatives would hunt deer, but other than that my first real exposure to guns was as a police officer in the early 1990s. I never really had much of an opinion on “gun control” until I became a police officer. It quickly became apparent that my job would be much safer if there were fewer guns out there and that there were a lot of people who had guns who shouldn’t.
On September 24, 2011, a year before the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, there was a shooting at my son's school. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm September day, one of those fall days that makes people get outside to enjoy it before the rain starts.
My son Jacob was 15 at the time. He had a Saturday rehearsal to go to for a play that he was in at the high school. My husband, Paul, drove Jacob to the school in Issaquah but couldn't get him all the way to the school because there were police cars blocking the street. Paul thought that perhaps it was traffic control for the football game, and because Jacob was going to be late for rehearsal, he dropped him off at the corner and told him to walk up the street half a block to the school.
Meanwhile, as Paul drove away from the school he came upon an unoccupied car that was parked in the lane of travel. Then, an unmarked police car came zooming up. A police officer, dressed in tactical gear and holding a semi-automatic rifle, jumped out, waved his arms and yelled “Get out of here!”
As Paul was driving away, he saw more police officers and the King County Sheriff’s Office helicopter. Sitting in the door of the helicopter were more police officers with semi-automatic rifles. Paul stopped to ask what was going on and was told that there was a shooter at the high school.
He called me with a panic in his voice that I had never heard before. “There is a shooter at the high school. There are cops and SWAT officers everywhere ... helicopters," he said. "Jacob is not answering his phone, and I don’t know what I just dropped him off into the middle of!”
He told me that many of the roads in the downtown area of Issaquah were blocked off. We made plans to meet at the edge of town and try to find Jacob on foot.
I then received an email from the director of the school play that read:
“Rehearsal cancelled. There is a shooter at the high school, we are in lockdown.”
She provided a list of the students who were in lockdown with her and Jacob’s name was not on her list. I began crying and felt a wave of panic wash over me. We decided to continue with our plan to try to find our son. We both called Jacob’s cell phone, but it just rang and rang.
We ran through town frantically, trying to get around police roadblocks to the high school, begging police officers to let us through. "My son is in there and he's not answering his phone. Please, let us through! Please!"
They wouldn’t let us through. So we had no choice but to wait with our hearts in our throats, alongside other anxious parents, at one of the roadblocks. I kept thinking, I can’t believe this is happening. But it was, and it was happening to my family, to my son, in my town.
After the longest 30 minutes of my life, Jacob called my husband’s cell phone. He was upset and crying. He was scared. My husband started crying too and asked, “Are you OK?”
Jacob told us that he was walking across the parking lot of the high school when he was ordered by a police officer to drop his things and lay down. He lay down on the asphalt parking lot amongst the scattered papers he'd been carrying. He didn't dare reach for his phone, though it buzzed relentlessly in his pocket, since he didn't think it would be wise to reach for his pocket after being ordered to the ground by a policeman with a gun.
The Issaquah police exchanged fire and shot and killed a man on the elementary school campus that is right next door to the high school. In addition to the gun he had, this man also had 952 rounds of ammunition on him. He had more guns in his car, which he left when he began walking across town toward the high school. He walked past the swimming pool, the middle school, the community center, pointing his gun and firing randomly at people, including the high school cross country team and coach who were out running that morning, and a mother with young kids pushing a stroller. The gunman’s abandoned car was the same unoccupied car that Paul had come upon sitting in the lane of traffic.
Jacob told us that after he had been lying in the parking lot for a while, a police officer approached him, obtained his name and number and pointed in the opposite direction from the school and yelled, “Run!” Jacob ran away from the school and after he got a reasonable distance away, called us. I asked him later if he had known what was going on while he was lying there in the parking lot and he said, “I figured it was a shooter.”
Our twin sons attended the elementary school where the gunman was shot and killed. When they returned to school on Monday after the shooting, there was a bullet hole in one of the portable buildings in the back of the school by the playground.
What kind of nation are we raising our kids in? One where gunmen are shot and killed on elementary school campuses? Is this the kind of nation we want for our kids, for ourselves?
I've since joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America as a volunteer to help bring awareness to gun violence prevention. I've met survivors of gun violence and spoken to my legislators about my own experience. This shooting at my son's school ended as well as it could have; the only fatality that day was the gunman. Issaquah is a wonderful town and our community, the peace and tranquility of it, was changed that day. It didn’t seem like a safe haven from gun violence anymore.
If it can happen in my town, to my family, it can happen anywhere, to anyone.