My husband Chris works at Discovery in downtown Silver Spring. Yesterday afternoon he called my mobile to say that there was “some serious stuff going down at Discovery.”
I thought he meant that there were staff changes or layoffs or something.
Instead, he went on to explain that he was calling from within his locked office because there was a gunman in the building, the gunman had hostages and might also have a bomb.
You know, just another day at work for an IT guy.
I was out with my kids at a McDonald’s Playland, having taken them out for a special First Day of School lunch of forbidden fast food, a new plastic toy and a romp through a Hamburgler-decorated maze. Away from my computer, with my phone in my purse, Chris’s call was the first I heard of the emergency. He was very calm. He didn’t want to talk much, didn’t say anything very dramatic, and told me he’d call me back when he had more information.
Later that evening he explained to me that he didn’t want to be chatting loudly in his office in case the guy was going around individual offices taking out people a la the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy (that I forced him to watch with me). He also said that he moved his chair from out from behind his desk and positioned it directly inside the door with his laptop on his lap, that way if someone walked past his office, it would not be apparent from glancing through the frosted glass on either side of the door that the office was occupied. Chris also explained that a key had been stuck in his office door for awhile, preventing the door from locking, normally not a big deal. But upon receiving the company-wide email to Discovery employees to retreat to locked offices, after 20 tries he finally got the key unstuck.
So after this phone call, I load the kids in the car and start driving home. For once, I am relieved that they are being super loud and squabbling and totally ignoring me on my phone. But after hanging up with Chris, who do I call? Chris’s parents or siblings, and totally freak them the heck out? My own family, and do the same? Call Chris again and be all “I love you!” fatalistic and unhelpful? But since I’ve never learned to think before I speak, the act of just talking to someone seemed calming.
So I pull up my phone history and look at the people on it. I call my friend K., whose husband also works in downtown Silver Spring, get a busy line message, and don’t leave a message because what do you say without scaring her for hopefully no reason (her husband does not work at Discovery, just nearby). Then I call WhyMommy Susan, for no other reason than that she is good with unexpected scary crap and a very good friend.
OK, I’ll admit it: The real reason I called Susan is that once she called me to pray for her when she was scared that something bad might be happening and I did and then I asked other people to pray too and then everything turned out totally fine. I wanted the same result and so it seemed logical at the time to call her and do the same thing. Apparently, the American chick’s incorrect interpretation of karma is totally Catholic. Or maybe it’s that sometimes when you are too in shock to pray yourself, and just have to work on driving your car at the speed limit and buckling the kids’ seat belts and using your turn signal correctly, what you do is you ask your friends to pray because you cannot.
Susan was great and invited us to come hang out at her house. I stumbling told her yes, but I needed to go home first and get my laptop to see what was happening, and then no, I’d rather go home so I could be reached by two phones, put the kids in front of a kid DVD that could not be interrupted by a breaking newscast and then just read the news on my computer in another room. I had a few other stumbling calls with K. and my friend M. too until we arrived home.
Chris and I both kept up with the situation on our laptops as it unfolded via Twitter, using the hashtag #Discovery. Normally I just use Twitter to very casually keep up with my friends, readers and fellow bloggers, but yesterday it was an ideal minute-by-minute aggregate of all the media and personal accounts available. It was also a silent medium, as I did NOT want my children to see that building they know so well, “Daddy’s building”, on the television, or them to hear anything via news radio or streaming media to scare them.
More friends began calling us, and I was grateful for something to do. Even just taking a call, saying I didn’t know anything more and would keep them posted kept me busy.
And then I looked out the window and Susan was pulling into the driveway, bearing her kids (one still in his first-day-of-school outfit, the other asleep on her shoulder), homemade cookies and a kid DVD. She cheerily settled down in the family room to watch TV and play with the kids, freeing me up to retreat to my computer and phones out of their earshot. Susan is awesome.
Chris then called and said that he and other employees were evacuated to another part of the building and that the gunman was on the first floor. We both worried aloud about the daycare center, also located on the first floor. And since the guy’s awful nutso manifesto was now being tweeted around, I also knew that this guy literally viewed children as filthy creatures. We wondered if his hostage was a child or if the guy really had explosives. Just thinking of those “what ifs”, connected to children, was another scary moment, almost as scary as Chris saying that he was locked in his office.
And then Chris called to say he was out of the building, the hostage was a security guard (at this point everyone thought there was only one hostage) and that he saw that the daycare center kids were evacuated to the nearby McDonald’s because it was air-conditioned (yes, McDonald’s again).
And this is when I finally freaked out and told him to get his ass home NOW, leave the car in its spot under the building, don’t wait for an official dismissal, if the police let you leave, LEAVE. And he did. While he Metroed home, I was able to update his family all at once that he was out and safe via Facebook and speak to his mother. And when he arrived at the Metro station, I left the kids with Susan. (AGAIN, THANK YOU SUSAN FOR BEING HERE – oh, Susan was keeping up with the situation via her iPhone, and she let me know that our blogging-social-media-maven friend Gayle who also works at Discovery happened to be in NY yesterday and was safe.)
Kid-less, I was able to zoom over the posted limit to the Metro station near our house to get Chris. The Metro station was packed with people with eyes glued to their phones and similarly waiting to be picked up.
We came home and took turns playing with the kids while the other one manned the phones and Twitter links from the media, as the authorities were now holding press briefings. I heard from the wonderful Patti that she was at her office in downtown Silver Spring, not far from Discovery, but waiting to be released. Patti was very calm and focused on Chris’s safety. Today I am worried that I wasn’t concerned enough about how she was doing, in my relief to have Chris home.
Still via Twitter, we learned that there was a “small group of hostages,” all adults. And then we learned that the hostages were out. And then that they were three in number and not physically injured. And then that Lee was shot.
One thing that REALLY bugged yesterday: the people clogging the #Discovery feed on Twitter with their jokes. I understand the place for a joke about current events, but not while the horrible event is happening. Not on the information stream that families of the hostages or SWAT team or emergency personnel are using to keep updated about their loved ones’ safety. Some people were making jokes before the employees were released from the building, when the news story was just minutes old. And LOTS of people were making jokes before the three hostages were freed. They made these jokes, again, using the #Discovery hashtag. Those people angered me greatly yesterday. And today. Their deadliestcatchsharkweekwheresbeargryllswhenyouneedhim jokes were ridiculously unhelpful. They could have made the jokes without the hashtag designated for breaking news.
The people who were concerned about my husband and his colleagues, whether they were the trained snipers risking their lives on site, the police negotiators who talked with Lee for hours yesterday, the SWAT teams searching for explosives, the police that safely evacuated the building, or the Discovery staff assisting the police in the building, those individuals impressed me beyond belief yesterday. My heart goes out to the three hostages who kept their cool and were so brave as they were held for four hours at gunpoint. (See statement from hostage Jim McNulty, God bless him.) I am impressed with Discovery’s statements and post-incident work today, and the media’s coverage of the event as it happened yesterday.
Our friends (from the intimate to the virtual pals of Facebook and Twitter) and family who called and emailed and texted and Tweeted and Facebooked and just sent their love and concern and prayers and support and friendship were also amazing. Thank you.
Our evening concluded last night with soccer practice – Charlie playing, Chris helping coach, Eve playing with the other soccer sibs on the playground, and me chilling and chatting with the other parents from our spectator chairs. I learned that a family I adore is expecting a baby. Good stuff. Normal stuff. Our happy life as usual.
So, um, I don’t really have a recommendation of something fun and new and exciting to do with your family today. I think we’ve all had enough excitement in Silver Spring to last us a good long while.