It was a cool February night in 2013 and I was surrounded by utter darkness. Besides the small blue orb in the corner—my nightlight that I could not sleep without—it was pitch black and silent. I was peaceful, and I fell asleep thinking about what outfit I would wear to school tomorrow, or what gymnastics skill I wanted to conquer next. Little to my knowledge then, I'd wake up a few hours later thinking that my short, eleven-year life was over. The sound that jolted me awake was so loud that I could feel my room vibrating, shaking under my resting body. I felt like I had fallen into quicksand, sinking deeper and deeper into this fear with nobody to help me and pull me back up. Time moved so fast but felt so slow as the deafening sound moved closer. I shrunk back in my covers, frozen, and prepared myself for the very worst.
I had woken up the morning before this event optimistic, excited about what Wednesday had to offer. I was looking forward to this one in particular, as I had moved up a level in gymnastics and was set to start training with my new group that afternoon. My mom called downstairs to let me know that it was time to leave, so I excitedly grabbed my bag and shuffled my feet into some flip-flops. As I was reaching for the shiny front-door handle, my dad emerged from the living room, looking pale and concerned. When he locked eyes with my mom I knew something was wrong, as this demeanor wasn’t like him at all. He told us to run upstairs and hide immediately, and to not come out until he tells us it’s safe. This is exactly what we did, and I remained there for a few hours, my confused mind flipping through every possible scenario that could’ve been occurring. I assumed that it had something to do with his job, as he was a police commander at the time, but I wasn’t sure until my mom came and delivered the news. She explained to me that an ex-officer had dug up his anger after being fired four years prior. The big catch? My dad was the one who fired him. He released a manifesto, a list containing all of the names of the future victims that he wanted to kill. To my complete terror, the names of every member of my family were sitting smack on top of the list. My dad informed us that it was safe to come downstairs and that police were coming to guard our house for the night. He said that everything was under control and told me not to worry, so I didn’t. Maybe things would’ve been different if I did.
I’m the only one in my family with a downstairs bedroom, and that had never been a problem to me. I moved down there when I was seven because my newborn sister needed the room next to my parents. That night in particular, I went to bed with little fear. I was still shaken by what I had heard, but thanks the twelve police officers and multiple security systems protecting my house, I felt pretty safe. Little did I know, I wouldn’t make it through that night the same fearless person that I had always been. Shortly after drifting off to sleep, my eyes shot open to the loudest sound I had ever heard. It was a mix between “BANG” and “BOOM,” something so alarming that I didn’t know what to do. I glanced over at my clock in confusion, registering that it was early and that I had no clue what was going on. My mind quickly made the connection between the never-ending sound of gunshots and the news I had received yesterday, and I was so afraid. This is it, I thought. I’m about to get killed, this is how I’m gonna die. I felt helpless, unable to move and unable to think. All I could do was pull my covers to my face and hope with all of my heart that I what I thought was happening wasn’t. The sounds seemed to grow louder, closer, and enveloped my entire being. I heard loud footsteps, and then the sharp turn of my doorknob. Here we go.
The next thing that I saw was a large male figure and the biggest gun I had ever seen. I almost had a heart attack right then and there. The shadow began to yell but his words jumbled in my mind and I was too scared to sort them out. After a few seconds of listening, my paralyzing fear began to lift and I came to the most refreshing realization I could’ve imagined. This man is my dad. The gun is his, and he’s carrying it to protect me from whatever was going on right outside of my house. He yelled at me to get under my bed, immediately, and to say there. He told me he’d protect me and keep me safe and that everything would be okay. I sprung out of my bed and attempted to jam myself under it, but I just couldn’t fit. He commanded me to run upstairs so I did exactly that, and met my mom and siblings in the bathroom. Night shifted to day, and we remained on that cold floor listening to the sounds of loud helicopters, yelling police, and curious news reporters for hours. My mom’s phone couldn’t catch a break, as neighbors and friends were so eager to know if we were okay. It wasn’t until my dad came back upstairs, finally with some news to deliver, that we found some peace.
Ironically enough, that morning my siblings and I sat and ate our Eggo waffles at the breakfast table like it was any other day. The only difference was that instead of watching our typical cartoons on TV, we were watching live news footage of the house we were in that very moment. We had to remain inside all day so that the detectives could gather evidence from our lawn, and also because our house was surrounded by news trucks and curious news reporters. Little did I know then, this eventful day was just the start of something huge—a kick-off for an adventure that changed my life forever.
The night after the shooting, we were escorted by the police to our friend’s house about thirty minutes away. The ex-officer had murdered some of the people on his manifesto during the week, and we were still in a lot of danger. After a few days there and no sign of him being caught, we made the decision to fly out to the East Coast and live with my uncle until it was safe to return home. My family took this as an opportunity to get away from all of the stress and fear, so we truly made the most of the trip. It was scary knowing that if he was never caught we couldn’t go home, but we did our best to stay distracted from that harsh reality. We flew to Washington DC and spent a few days there visiting monuments and museums with family, and then drove up to Maryland. In Maryland we spent some time with close friends and then made our way up to New York. We spent most of the trip exploring New York and New Jersey, which was such a great experience and truly a trip that I’ll never forget. Towards the end of the trip, my dad received the news that the ex-cop had been caught and killed, and that we were finally safe to come home. Upon returning we were showered with love and support, and it was such a relief getting to reunite with everyone that I had missed so much. My family felt so thankful to be surrounded with so much kindness and care.
As scary as this whole experience was, I’m so grateful that it was something I had to go through. It taught me that life is precious and can change in an instant, so it’s incredibly important to live in the moment and make the most of every day. I learned that keeping a positive outlook and remembering that everything happens for a reason truly makes tough times so much easier to go through. This experience brought me closer to my friends, my family, and most importantly, it brought me so much closer to God. Today I do my best to not take anything for granted, because life is a gift and can be taken away any second. When dealing with hardships, I always remember that when we go through them, we grow through them.