The San Bernardino Shooting: This one hit close to home

And now it’s official, this is being investigated as an act of terror.

We usually start the day with the morning news on; half the time the sound is down, no one’s paying attention, it’s just background patter. 

I’m home alone and instead of taking my usual walk I decide to do a little writing; I mute the TV, I don’t know why I don’t turn it off completely. I’m on a roll and it’s sometime shortly after 11:30 before I finally look up from my desk and see a red banner splashed on the TV screen: Active Shooter Situation in San Bernardino, California. My heart hits the floor. That’s close to home. I find the remote, un-mute the TV set in time to hear that the shooter is at a building on the corner of Orange Show and Waterman. That’s my husband’s old stomping ground, most of his large family still live and work in the area. About an hour and half from our apartment in L.A., it’s just a few minutes from his parents’ home where we gather for family birthdays and holiday celebrations. 

I send him a text, I tell him to call his family, make sure everyone’s okay. But he’s in a meeting and I get no response so I text my sister-in-law instead. “Active shooting situation in San Bernardino. Praying all family and friends are safe and sound.” I’m not usually one for praying but I realize that’s exactly what I’m doing.

We text back and forth sharing details, the exact location—the Inland Regional Center— and the horrible fact that at least three people are dead. At this point we have no idea how much worse it will eventually get. How high the death toll will rise. At this point it’s nothing but a distant fear, I’m numb, desensitized by the frequency of the event. Another mass shooting. Another day in America.

And then my sister-in-law sends another text.
Oh my God. Just heard that Kathy is in that building.”

Kathy. Smart, quiet, unassuming Kathy. Kathy is her daughter-in-law, Kathy is her son’s wife, Kathy is the mother of her grandchildren. That’s the Kathy who is in that building and I’m speechless. A food safety inspector with the health department, Kathy is the mother of a smart girl just beginning to go through puberty, the mother of a smart little boy who needs his mother too. It’s funny the things you think in an instant.

The waiting seems eternal, I stand two feet in front of the TV, watching the screen, watching people file out, hands up, searching for Kathy. Then I get another text. She’s okay. She was hiding but she’s okay. She’s called her husband. She’s okay. I’m no longer numb, I’m crying. I’m sure my sister-in-law is crying too, tears of relief. At the thought of what might have been. 

I have the news on all day, seeing the death toll climb to 14. Watching as the cops close in on the suspects. Listening to the politics on both sides of the gun control issue, the mental health issue, the terrorism issue, the immigration issue even though it turns out the shooter is a US citizen, born and bred, and thinking the only issue that counts is that she’s safe, that no one should have to go through this, that 14 innocent people are dead. That their families are devastated. That’s the issue.

Finally at six o’clock my nephew posts that Kathy is safely back in his arms. Very shaken but okay.

My sister-in-law sends one last text and I understand now why Kathy had to stay so long when so many other people were transported out. She was there, not just in the building, but in the room. 

She saw the shooter come in the door and spray the room with gunfire. That’s when she hit the floor. When he was done, a second shooter came in and did it again. She crawled the length of the hallway to another room. She saw the bullets going through the walls. Got to concessions and got into a coffee cart just as he came back across the room shooting two clips of bullets. 

We know now that Kathy was at the Inland Regional Center at a Christmas party for health department employees. That at least one of the shooters—two of them now dead—worked for the health department too. Workplace violence. Terrorism. Insanity. All three? I don’t know. I can’t begin to fathom the motive for something like this. 

For now, all I can think of is Kathy, crawling the length of a hallway, knowing sheer terror had to be pounding in her chest the whole way. Praying, yes praying, that Kathy will be able to get that horror out of her head. 

Update: 11:58am 12/3/2015 

Heartbroken for ‘Kathy’ (not her real name) who has learned that four of her close colleagues were among those killed in the mass shooting. 

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