This is a wake-up call for all of you who think you’re ready when the Schumer Hits the Fan (SHTF). Whatever trigger may cause the mayhem, you think you’re ready for it because you read all the advice from experts like SurvivalBlog so that your prepared to handle anything thrown at you.
Well I’m here to tell you that when it does come your way, either by lack of practice, planning, forgetfulness or not doing what you know you should, life can turn for the worst to immediately change your life and those you love. Yesterday was my day to “wake up and smell the coffee”.
My husband and I awoke at 6 am and put my youngest son on the bus to high school 17 miles from our home. We had just taken our oldest son, a Freshman, to a small rural college in the west Texas town of Alpine (population 5,900) 5 hours away. The primary reason we chose west Texas is the rural ranching focus far away from large cities.
My life is pretty ordinary. I began the morning by feeding our chickens, milk goats, dogs and cats, yet the world came to a stop when I casually glanced at my phone around 9:30 am. I had missed several phone calls and text messages from our oldest son.
What he wrote turned my world upside down: “Mom, there’s is an active shooter at the school and they’ve locked down every school campus in Alpine.” Simultaneously, there was also a bomb threat at the university and hospital.
Stunned, I immediately cried out loud for God to protect my son from all evil, calling on the Lord to keep him safe. I next called my husband to come home immediately and then my mother and pastor to begin praying.
What I didn’t know yet was that the shooter was a high school freshman girl who shot another female student, then turned the gun on herself and committed suicide. A federal officer was also accidentally shot by another during all the confusion.
While the three shooting victims were taken to the hospital, multiple law enforcement agencies descended in force on the small town to look for other active shooters. Between reading “active shooter” texts from my son and the university, school phone calls of “active shooter” alerts and campus lock down featured on Fox News reporting live in Alpine I almost threw up.
The school messages told everyone to shelter in place. This was later changed to directing everyone on campus to evacuate immediately to the civic center in town.
When the school shooting was over and law enforcement (kudos to the men in blue!) determined there were no other shooters, they spent the day and better part of the evening making sure there wasn’t a bomb at the university.
That was 12 hours later and hindsight is 20/20. My immediate actions and reactions were tested beyond my understanding. Looking back on that day filled with prayer, tears, confusion, anxiety, misinformation and lots of waiting taught me about myself, my son and how my family responds in a crisis.
After it was over, my son was scared, but fine. He helped other students, took charge and performed well, just as he was taught. But the lessons I learned are valuable and I wish to pass them on to others. Many are so simple, yet there were unseen events I could have never prepared for.
Here’s what I did wrong:
- Didn’t keep my cell phone charged or check it often enough. When I got the text messages from my son they were 25 minutes old, which seems like a lifetime in a shooting situation. Not getting hold of me, my son began making decisions on his own. When I really needed to communicate my cell phone was almost dead. I was frantically running around trying to find a charger. I also turned down the volume on the phone ringer so that I didn’t hear his frantic phone calls. Always be prepared.
- Stay or go? After learning of an active shooter, my first response was to drive the 5 hours to Alpine. Guess what? I couldn’t find my car keys! I had not put them in the basket on the dining room table my husband had suggested just a few nights before. More wasted time frantically running around and causing lots of stress!
- Active shooter plan wasn’t updated. Although our family discussed what to do in the event of an active shooter at the high school, when my son went off to college we didn’t update it. We discussed before leaving him at college to “head home” in case of emergency, but didn’t’ take into consideration this may not always be possible. We also didn’t have a Plan B or C. That was a big mistake. Formulating a strategy under pressure usually doesn’t yield the best results and causes undue stress. See below.
- Kids don’t always follow the plan. When I finally spoke to my son he had already left campus and was at a rest stop outside of town, unsure what to do next. I said come home, he said no. Trying to not argue, with the sirens blaring in the background, he informed me “they” would go to a café in the next small town 22 miles away and call me from there. They? My son had brought along 2 girls from class with him and he now was making decisions jointly. Didn’t see that one coming.
- No backup plan. I had told him to head home in the event of an emergency, but didn’t plan beyond that, nor did I take into account if for some reason he couldn’t come home. Then what? With no backup plan they were in a quandary: they couldn’t go back to school because it was being evacuated to the civic center. Later they decided to return to town and stay at a friend’s parent’s house that was empty and only used when they visit their son at school. Eventually 7 students stayed there while the situation worked itself out.
- No cash. Although I had given my son a hundred dollars and told him to put it away in case of emergency, he spent it without replacing it. That was his gas money to get out of Dodge. This time the ATM’s worked. Next time?
- No cell service. Cell phones don’t work inside the high school where my younger son was in class. I didn’t have either son’s class schedules that would have allowed me quick access. I needed to inform my youngest of the situation and that our family was preparing to drive to Alpine. This meant relying on others to tell me where my son was located. A new person at the school front desk took the call, buy disregarded my emergency instructions to bring my son to the office and call me. Always know where your kids are!
- OPSEC. When a well-meaning, but inquisitive high school counselor over heard my frantic conversation with my youngest son, she promptly chided me for not following procedure and I should have let the government take control of my son and evacuate to the civic center. Do you remember Hurricane Katrina? Another mistake: No matter how well their intentions, do not tell others your emergency situation or future plans. Keep that only a need-to-know basis.
- New state gun laws changed the rules for guns on campus. We chose Alpine in part because my oldest son could bring guns to school and hunt on the weekends if he turned them in to campus police. Like most Texas children, my son was raised around guns, is very responsible when using them and is a very good shot. The option to defend himself was taken away when Texas passed open carry, which at first unbeknownst to us, restricts students from having any guns on campus unless they have a concealed weapons permit and are 21 years old. We didn’t have a plan in place to counteract this, which left my very capable, level headed son defenseless.
- We didn’t know where the school would take our son in theevent of an emergency. Enough said.
We did get some things right. Here’s a list:
- I had a full gas tank ready to go.
- Before leaving for college we gave our son an Atlas, fullemergency backpack, snacks and water for his truck and dorm important since the school provides all his meals.
- A compass, sleeping bag and tent were also ready in his dorm room.
- We strongly advised our college son to explore his surroundings on the first weekend away at school, which he did. Hiking the nearby mountains gave him the “lay of the land” in his new surroundings and by asking others to join him he met the new friend whose parents house he stayed at during the emergency.
- High school son was ready for immediate action. I kept him in the loop and was a part of our family decision making process. We discussed our options via speaker phone, which gave him some measure of control during the situation. It was a big lesson for the youngest too.
- Had both schools phone number on speed dial and the school address.
- Made a predetermined rendezvous point between home and school to stay at until help arrived in case my son couldn’t make the drive all the way home. It wasn’t used this time, but what about the next?
- Took the time out of our nightly routine to practice shooting our gun just the night before it happened.
- Kept our Pastor in the loop. Not only did Pastor personally drive our son to Alpine and help select a church for him to attend, but they spent the long drive discussing the Lord, life and future just before he left. Salvation is the end game, right?
- Didn’t react until we knew fully what was going on. We cried and prayed, but in the end kept our cool helping direct our son away from danger.
May you never need to use these lessons. In the end what matters the most is faith in God, family and love. I will never again think it can’t happen out in the country or to our family. Times are perilous so you must be prepared. May God Bless you and keep you safe.