The Real Story of a School Lock Down

Jennifer Wolfe

As I sat huddled on the floor of my classroom on a sticky hot Friday afternoon, I couldn’t believe how quiet 34 12 and 13-year-olds could be. I knew it was broad daylight, but with my heavy curtains pulled and the lights off, I couldn’t see any of their faces. I imagined what they looked like; their hair would be slightly askew, their brows sweaty from playing basketball at lunch. The smiles and laughs of our afternoon class would be erased, replaced by fear in their eyes and an unwillingness to let anyone see them cry. My mind raced as I went through my mental checklist – had he made it back from the bathroom before I slammed and locked the door? Did J make it under the desk with his broken ankle and crutches? Where were my interns? In an instant, I transformed from a facilitator of learning to a commander of safety.

I listened in the quiet and then whispered, “You’re ok. We will be fine. You are safe.”

No one whispered back.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first lock down I’ve experienced in 25 years of teaching, but this one felt different. It was no drill, that was for sure. The principal’s voice over the intercom was clear and firm, but I knew something was terribly wrong.

Desperate for information, I weighed the risk of standing up to walk to my desk. I knew the news would come via email, but there was a crack of light where the curtains didn’t quite cover the window – a crack big enough for a shooter to aim and fire. And it was directly behind my desk.

Sirens punctured the silence. We could hear them stopping in front of the school. I could feel the fear in the stillness of my classroom.

My laptop glowed in the darkness, but I couldn’t hear the ping of a new email. I knew before long the questions would start. I wanted to have an answer. I wanted to have something to soothe their minds while they waited, curled up under the tables, packed together like kittens seeking warmth from their mother. The silence wasn’t going to last.

Crouching down, I crept to my desk, my eyes scanning my inbox. “Keep all kids inside. Keep doors and windows locked. Do not let anyone in or out. We’ve received a threat and will send more information soon.” Slightly reassuring; I had been hoping for something better-something that would make me feel like we would be ok.

I felt the blood drain through my body. A threat. 34 children. 3 interns. And my own son out there, somewhere. Three of his classmates were with me – I knew they’d been delivering invitations when the lock down happened. Had he made it back in time?

I grabbed my cell phone and slunk back to the floor space. The screen lit up with a text from Cameron, “Mom, what’s happening? There’re cops everywhere.”

He’s safe. Gratitude washed over my heart. “I don’t know, son. Where are you?”

“I’m in my classroom. Mom, is this real?”

“I don’t know. Stay safe. I love you.”

“Mrs. Wolfe….Mrs. Wolfe,” came a barely audible voice through the darkness. “Do our parents know? Do they know what’s going on?”

They’re 12 years old, I thought. They want their parents. They’re just children – my children, now – and I’m it. It’s up to me.

“Mrs. Wolfe, can I hold this?” I crept close to the voice and saw her dark eyes. She was holding a pink stuffed elephant. I’d forgotten that box was under the computer table.

“Of course, sweetie,” I whispered back. Now was the time to move. “Class, you are fine. You are safe. I will take care of you. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know the police are here to protect us. You must stay quiet. Your parents will know we’re in lock down. You are safe here in our room. I will let you know as soon as I find out anything.”

My stomach lurched as I navigated around the discarded backpacks back to my spot on the floor. Another email – no news. “Get comfortable,” I breathed into the dead air. “This could be awhile.”

One hour later…

A new email vibrated my phone. “The police are checking the campus. They will come to your room. You must open the door.”

Are you kidding me? Open the door to what? The curtain is enough of a false sense of security – I don’t want to open anything. We’re safe here, in the dark, on the floor. They’re quiet. They have their games on their phones and cards and chess and they’re not making a sound…and they feel ok. They trust me.

I knew my room would be the first one checked. Whispering a warning to the class, I softly stepped around bodies and bags and board games. I’d done everything I could to take their minds off of the fear. Now I had to open up to the outside.

The knock came as predicted, and I pushed open the door. He stood there, in full gear, gun drawn. “Are you ok? Is everyone here?” The words wouldn’t come. I was fixated on the one behind him, holding the bigger gun. “Yyyyyes, we’re here. We’re ok.” I looked down at the boys at my feet. Their eyes were wide open, taking it all in. I had no idea they would be able to see all this. I’m sure, like me, they’ve never been that close to a gun.

I closed the door and quickly locked it from the inside, hanging the lanyard around my neck. My breath came rapidly. Hold it together. You are safe. Cameron is safe. You can do this. I was responsible for these children. This was real.

Creeping back to my spot, reassuring students as I went past, I felt the tone change around me. They knew this wasn’t a drill. They knew something bad was happening. I prayed they couldn’t sense my nervousness. We could hear the officers banging on each door in the building, and then silence.

That was a good thing.

Two hours later…

The beanbag chair saved me. I didn’t realize how sore I could get sitting cross-legged for two hours on the floor. My mind raced as I tried to figure out how I could make a toilet – I knew that would come soon. My phone flashed with messages from my sisters, sending me news reports to supplement the little information we had on the inside. I knew the kids had their phones, but the darkness kept me from doing much. If I was their parent, I would want to know they were safe. I stayed silent.

The emails were coming every 30 minutes or so. “Stay calm. We are safe. We will keep you posted” were words of comfort, but I couldn’t help wonder if everyone else was ok. The stillness was frightening.

Suddenly, the intercom crackled to life. “The lock down is over. Please remain in your rooms until 3:15 dismissal.”

We’re safe. It’s over. I’m still not unlocking the door. What happened? Did anyone get hurt? Where is Cam?

We stood up, our bodies creaking and peeling ourselves out of our hiding places. With the lights on, I could finally see their eyes – now with a glint of relief, of anticipation, with question. Slowly, the kids hugged and gathered their sweatshirts and lunchboxes strewn around the room. We stretched and pushed the desks back and tried to make it feel normal, like any other Friday afternoon. Fifteen more minutes together. We could do this.

We did do this. We are safe. We did made it. They will see their parents, hug them and collapse into their arms.

It wasn’t our time.

This post originally appeared on Jennifer’s blog, mamawolfe.

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We can not have enough gratitude for the teachers and administrators who handle school lockdowns.

This post was syndicated with permission to BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Jennifer Wolfe, a mom and middle school teacher, loves nothing more than watching kids be brave, courageous and navigate the world. Jennifer’s stories and reflections appear regularly on her blog, mamawolfe, as well as on The Huffington Post, Bonbon Break, Mamapedia, Mamalode, Midlife Boulevard, Blogher, and Project Underblog.