I was having a typical busy Friday in December, you know, the kind when you have your sister and her family visiting from across the globe (they currently live in Sydney, Australia), and so I had hustled to get the stuff done that I needed to get done first thing so that I could enjoy every drop of time visiting with them as I could.
My big plans for the day included “dates” with two of my nephews.
We found delicious gluten free chocolate chip cookies, he got to pick out a special juice, I got a latte, and we had a great visit about what his favorite thing is about Sydney (boats). He has a pretty short attention span. I had about fifteen minutes to kill before I was meeting Ellie and Middlest for lunch and to swap boys with her.
Littlest and I walked around the Streets of Southglenn for awhile, looked at the ice skaters, stomped around in the snow, then headed to Chick-fil-a to meet up for lunch.
A quick glance through Chick-fil-a showed that we had beaten them there, and I opted to take the three-year-old back outside to keep him occupied.
As we walked out into the sunshine, there was a table of three girls, two with Arapahoe Highschool sweatshirts on. I see them put down a cell phone, hands go to cover mouths. One girl gets up and starts pacing.
Littlest and I pass them. He points at a firetruck that passes by us with the siren going. Then two more police cars go by us. I’m registering that something’s not right, but I mostly just do the same internal prayer that I always do when I see a firetruck racing down the street. I know what it’s like to be the person that’s called for those paramedics. I know that panic. I think about the bad day that that person is having.
I turn back to look at the table of girls, and full panic has set in, one of the girls is still pacing but is now hysterical.
I look down at Littlest and say, “I think those girls might be sad or hurt. I think we should go talk to them.” So I walked up to the table and asked, “Are you guys ok? Can I help?”
They told me that there had just been a shooting at Arapahoe Highschool.
Their whole lives had changed and I had watched it happen.
I stayed with them. I kept telling the hysterical girl to take deep breaths, and rubbed her back. I kept them talking. They did better when they were talking. I kept telling them that we didn’t know yet how bad it was, so let’s try not to worry until we know. This was difficult to keep in the forefront of the mind, though, as we watched ambulance after ambulance after firetruck after firetruck after police car after police car race by. One girl called her mom, and so I waited with them until their mom got there. I introduced myself. I gave them Kleenex. We talked through where their brother would be.
“What time is it?”
“It’s 12:30.” I said.
“He has first lunch.” She tells me.
“Does that mean that he’s still at lunch or is first lunch over by 12:30?” I ask her.
“No, it’s fifth hour.” She says.
“Good. Do you know what class he has fifth hour?”
“Um, no?” She says, panicked.
Ok, Noel, that’s not helping anymore. Get her to talk about something else. So, I asked them, “Guys, this might be weird, but, I’m wondering if it would be ok if I prayed for us?”
“Yes. Would you please?” Said the girl who didn’t know what her brother had fifth hour.
So we prayed together for a few minutes. We moved between praying and talking, praying and talking. The reality of what had just happened began to dawn on them slowly; gradually new realizations would hit them, but mostly they kept asking the same question.
“How did this happen?”
“Oh my gosh you guys, I’m so glad we weren’t in there.”
“How did this happen?”
Littlest, who can be a bit of a rascal, just sweetly held my hand the whole time, dialed in to the fact that these girls needed help. Ellie and Middlest came by at some point and she took the nephews inside to get food, while I stayed with the girls.
And then their mom came. What a beautiful hug that was. I stayed long enough to make sure they didn’t need anything else, then went inside to join my family, and I completely fell apart.
You guys, my heart is broken. I share the same area code with other tragedies like Columbine and Aurora, but they are not in parts of town that I spend a lot of time in. This happened two blocks from my mom’s house. At the highschool that my brother and sister graduated from. It’s the school where my friends’ babysitters go. This is my neighborhood.
I keep thinking about the girl that was shot. Did she have first lunch? Was she one of the girls that I encountered at Starbucks? Is she the one that held the door for us? Or the one that thought that Arthur and Littlest were so cute? Was she part of the crowd that I was annoyed at that took too long at the light?