Sunday, January 22, 2017

We were at the Rolling Oaks mall shooting today

.... which doesn't happen to one very often. And writing does help me process.

So I took Elizabeth, Phoebe, Harrison and our neighbor Charlize to Rolling Oaks Mall this afternoon. Jonathan was at a church friend's house. We did our shopping and playing and were finishing up our time in the food court. I had a good view from our table as Liz was getting orange chicken and Charlize was buying a smoothie from Pretzel Time. Liz came back with chicken, and I went to meet Charlize as she made her way to our table. We ate a bit; Charlize was thinking of getting sesame chicken and started to head there. People suddenly started running past us. No yelling ~ I heard nothing unusual. Then we heard firecracker sounds. We dove under the table.

Charlize ran back to us. I played mother hen and tried to cover them all with my arms. The three youngers were crying. I couldn't see any commotion; never heard anyone cry out in pain. So I thought maybe the shooter(s) had shot into the air. I started praying out loud to calm the children. They didn't calm. I didn't feel (very) nervous; just highly alert.

The Japanese restaurant guys were signaling for us to follow them. Was that safe? To move? I didn't know, but no one else was around us. We probably should have run already. So, we picked ourselves up and ran low against the wall to the bathroom hall where a small crowd was beckoning for us to run in. I felt safer with the crowd. A security guard with weapon drawn and the Japanese restaurant guys (also with weapons drawn) met us back there and told everyone to head outside.

I realized I had left my purse on the food court table -- no keys, no phone. Phoebe was crying that she had left her newly-purchased bracelets. Liz was helping to calm everyone. We walked fast between the cars in the parking lot. I told the kids to duck under a car if they heard any more shooting. Was it truly safer outside?

We made it to the outermost part of the parking lot. Any further and we'd be in a grassy field. I kept telling the kids we'd made it out, we were okay, but the distraught seemed more intense. I borrowed a phone from a teenage girl and called Phillip. He was about 25 minutes away but immediately headed over. Then I remembered to call Charlize's mom, who was closer, and borrowed another phone. It went to voice mail (found out later that it was charging). A middle-aged couple had called their son (a cop), and he arrived in a truck and carrying a big gun. He offered us a ride in the back (the cab was full). We laid down flat in the bed while he drove away from the mall. He didn't want to drive far with us in the back, so I told him to drop us off at Burger King nearby. The mom let me borrow her phone to let Phillip know. No answer. We went inside. Harrison asked if he could play in the play area. Phoebe was still crying. H said he didn't really feel like playing after all. I told Phoebe she could pray for the people still stuck in the mall. She nodded and, with a job to do, stopped crying. Liz was continually distracting Harrison. I borrowed another phone, tried Charlize's mom again, and got ahold of Phillip to tell him we were at BK. He arrived; we all crammed into the cab of his truck; Phoebe and Harrison broke down again. Phillip and I made some light-hearted talk and got Charlize and Liz to smile.

We made it home ~ I explained things to Charlize's family while Phillip petted on the kids and put on Star Wars. Liz social-media-ed and made magic milk for Phoebe and Harrison.

That was our play-by-play.

As we process this, I've found the kids need to talk about it ~ with friends, with neighbors, with each other. Harrison, who thought the sound came from the ceiling cracking and falling, is currently more afraid of being smothered than of being shot (although he started going over scenarios of gunmen entering our home just before bed ~ we'll see how the night goes). My purse is still stuck at the mall. We did find the other van key and were able to bring the van home.

We now have a little clearer picture of what happened, and I thank God for several things. First, I'm so grateful we were all together when it went down. Kay Jewelry was being robbed ~ that's what the whole deal started as. At one point in our mall trip, Phoebe and Charlize had been in the photo booth Right Next to Kay's. Elizabeth had been off looking around the mall by herself while the kids played in the play area... which is Right Next to Kay Jewelry. We had all been in Claire's at one point, which is beside Kay Jewelry. Charlize had been at Pretzel Time. While I had my eye on her the whole time, we were still separated. It is Right Across from Kay Jewelers. And it was either being robbed or on its way to it with Charlize over there, separated from us! I almost can't think about it.

But we were all together when the shooting happened. Just a few feet away from it, true. But I just don't know what I would have done if any of us had been separated, and I had to wonder if that person was safe. So I'm grateful to God that we were all together.

Unbeknownst to us, one of the shooters had left the mall. So as we were heading out, he was also heading out, albeit by a different door..... still the same side of the mall. I'm sure he left in a car to get out of there (I'm hearing that he's in custody now), but it's funny how you think one thing is safe (getting out of the mall), but you actually have no idea if it is or not.

I'm thankful for all the people who let us use cell phones, gave us a ride, gave me direction as to what to do. People come together in a crisis. I'm thankful for the abundance of good when there is a show of evil.

And I praise God for our safety. Not everyone was safe. Some were stuck in the mall not knowing what was happening. One person was killed. Three (one of them was a shooter) were injured. I believe two others were hospitalized for labor and chest pains. But, except for some fear and worry, this has been a surreal but safe experience for us. I'm grateful we don't Live in this kind of fear. We live peaceful, safe lives with great law enforcement and good citizenry being the norm. That's not the case for many around the world.

And lastly, this is just one more thing that makes a child of God long for heaven. Grateful that, after this very short earth-span, an eternal sinless, fearless, tearless life awaits. "Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

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