Yesterday, there was a shooting at our local mall. Home to numerous restaurants, play centers, a bowling alley, and movie theater, in addition to the many stores stocked for Christmas shoppers, it was filled. Santa was taking pictures with children when the shots rang out.
I was not there, but the mall is a popular spot around here, and it didn’t take long for this shooting to become personal. A woman bringing a group of children to the movies to celebrate her son’s birthday. Another having lunch with a friend. A family out shopping for children’s clothing. My Facebook newsfeed quickly filled with announcements of safety.
No one was injured in the shooting, which is thought to be gang related. No one has been arrested. Yet, countless families will now question where they will bring their children today. Countless mothers will decide against a visit to Santa this year. Countless children will have life-long memories of being forced to get down and take cover as shots rang out in a crowded mall.
In times like this, it’s easy to believe that the world is a dark, cruel place. It’s hard to feel safe when our news is filled with random acts of violence. Today, I will try my best to remember the words of Fred Rogers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
My friend Kelly was in the mall yesterday. I can’t imagine the fear she must have felt and still feels. Yet, this morning on Facebook, she chose to send a message to her helper. It brought me to tears, yet also brought me comfort. It reminded me that, in the midst of one act of violence, our local mall was home to a bounty of random acts of kindness yesterday.
Kelly has graciously allowed me to share her words with you. I hope that they make you feel a little bit better about the world today.
To the stranger in DSW,
Yesterday when my husband and I decided to go to the mall to buy our daughter (3) some new dresses, I didn’t expect to leave holding your hand, especially since I never even caught your name. The mall was so crowded, we decided to park near JC Penny’s because, let’s face it, it never gets too packed there. Where did you park? Did you have to walk far after we were evacuated?
My husband, I think you saw him, was so frustrated when we arrived because he had left the attachment to the baby’s (5 months) stroller in the garage, but I of course am always prepared and had my wrap. (Looking back it was a sign not to have the stroller because we had to evacuate through stairs.) We weren’t there long, a stop in Pottery Barn, a quick stop at H&M, and then down the escalator to DSW. Were you starting your Christmas shopping early or there for yourself?
Our daughter Madigan loves the escalator, but she didn’t love Santa sitting at the bottom, so we quickly made our way to DSW and that’s where I met you. I was with the baby in the bootie section. I have a large foot, 9.5, and luckily they didn’t have anything to try on. What were you looking for?
As I made my way across the store to see where Dan and Madigan were, I noticed people yelling and running towards Penny’s. I looked around DSW, and oddly enough no one but me noticed that chaos that was ensuing. When I heard someone from inside the mall yell shooter, I did as I was trained and began to yell “shooter, shooter, everyone run” as loudly as I could. Did you hear me?
Dan didn’t hear me either so I started screaming his name. I’m sure you heard that. Finally, we made eye contact and I once again yelled out “shooter.” Although Dan had our daughter, he did what he was trained to do as a police officer and began to run towards the shooter. When he and I were talking about it last night, I was angry that he would have thought to leave us, but he explained it was his duty to put others before himself in the event of an active shooter. This is something that as a wife of an officer I need to accept, although yesterday I screamed at him to stop. I watched as he assessed the situation, and agreed, he needed to get our daughter to safety, after all I was still three isles away.
He quickly picked up Madigan and at that time the store clerk yelled for us to head to the back. That’s where I met you. I was the girl with the baby wrapped around her. I was the girl with the long brown ponytail and tears beginning to form in her eyes. I was the girl while walking up the stairs you asked if I was alone. I was the girl who told you my husband was here, but further down the stairwell. I was the girl who you explained to that my husband looked calm and had our daughter tightly wrapped in his arms. And I was the girl whose back you rubbed.
I was also the mother of that little girl screaming she was scared. I was the mother trying to explain that we were just in a fire drill, like the ones we practice at school. I was the mother of the sleeping baby lying across her chest, so innocent. I was the mother who took the biggest breath she’s ever taken as the door to the outside world opened, because it was in moment, I knew my children were safe.
And I was the stranger who was grateful that she had parked in JC Penny’s because I could see my car. I was the stranger who turned back, looked you straight in your watery eyes and said thank you. And I was the stranger who will forever be grateful to you, a woman whose name I don’t even know, a woman who in a time of great uncertainty cared enough about me to make sure I was okay, a woman whose face I will never forget.