Family

I don’t really even remember how I heard about the shooting. I was in the midst of returning books, writing envelopes to return inter-library loan books and mentally working on a blog post, indulging myself with joyous thoughts of the little man’s 8-month “birthday.” Oblivious.

Was it a news blip online? Was it a Facebook post? Was it a call with my mom? In a whirlwind, I found myself grasping my gut and sobbing at the thought of what was happening. Puzzle pieces of information were floating to the top, some true, some rumor. An explosion at a 3-room apartment in Mohawk. Shooting in Herkimer. Related? Explosion at John the Barber’s. But, wait, no fire. It was the apartment owner in Mohawk. No, it wasn’t. His car’s abandoned. Near Valley Health (an elderly care facility, incredibly close to the local high school and community college)? No, rumor. 

All I knew was that there seemed to be a dangerous man on the loose and my mother had received threats recently (and over time) at her occupation in Mohawk. We’re at a local school which did a tiny version of a lockdown, but she was in the thick of it. I called and asked her to go on lockdown but she shrugged it off. Luckily, they eventually did, but only after the gunman had settled into his hideout in Herkimer.

Herkimer. Our town. A place we’re constantly discussing whether or not to move away from. It’s not an unsafe place, but Dave wouldn’t want me to walk down Main Street without him. Freaky deakies, druggies and mentally ill people stroll the street and surrounding ones all day. Not a side of our lives you hope to show the world on the Today Show.

Mohawk. My hometown. Main Street, where four were shot a block east of where I lived my first 19 years. With a barber shop that was as much a hangout as it was an establishment for a new ‘do. A place that’s been put through its own hardships over the years, teeming with hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people…like my grandparents and their children who made their lives there for a reason.

After a day of racing between the phone and computer with rising fear and tears, a blur of super-smiley-hiding-inner-anxiety classes, comparing notes with a handful of coworkers, and texting as reception would have it, it was finally the end of the day. Our home street had been inundated with SWAT teams who mistook a neighbor with a white beard as the suspect, but had since retreated, and people weren’t certain if he was above a jewelry store (Weisser’s, where I purchased my class ring in high school), in an abandoned former bar (Glory Days, a bar I once frequented; one of the only clean, safe ones in the area), both two blocks from my home, or an abandoned school building which we referred to as the “brick bonanza” (as its “for sale” sign read) about a block from our place.

Go home in the midst of essentially a town-wide lockdown? Be alone with the cats? The poor cats who, thanks to a security camera, we knew were watching the proceedings from the window with slight confusion and wonderment. Not alone, I needed to be with Hadley, if not my husband.

Or go to my in laws’ house in Utica, where it was safe and where my precious baby son was blissfully ignorant of the outside world? Possibly not return home for the night. Or more.

Throughout it all, I was ecstatic every time I received a short text or very brief email from my husband. When I was informed that he’d be heading to the scene to trade tapes with reporters, the anxiety overtook me. He thought nothing of the danger, knowing that the police would keep them far enough from it. In my opinion, anywhere near the zip code would be too close. My thoughts were with the families of those who had been shot, though I only knew the barber remotely. My thoughts were with the law enforcers, EMTs and firemen who were putting themselves in extreme danger. But, mostly, my thoughts were with him.

It hurts that media is seen as the “bad guy,” especially locally. People are simply ignorant about it. I can see where national news outlets tend to have blatant agendas, but as far as our small-town news providers are concerned, there is little politicking involved. People at the station spout about their political views, even to the point of offending others, but there seems to be a clear divide; the whole place isn’t liberal, the whole place isn’t conservative, and they all keep it the hell off the airwaves. But, when people see something they disagree with, they jump to the concept that it’s because the individual is biased.

In times like these, you also see an influx of “why the hell aren’t you covering this more?” and “why are you shoving this down our throats?” and “why isn’t this working?” and a hundred other variations of terribly rude complaints. Sure, there are daily bitchings, but when things get terrifying, people feel the need to find someone to lash out towards; enter, the media.

Without the media, we would be, simply put, misinformed. We wouldn’t know the latest information. We would be completely in the dark. Helpless.

When everyone else is running away from a dangerous situation, it’s the brave law enforcement individuals first; we take for granted that they do an incredibly difficult job, and do it well. But, not far behind comes the media. In their plain clothes and lack of weaponry or bullet-proof vests; we take for granted that they’ll provide the information we desperately need to feel safe in our beds, to know that our loved ones are okay, and also do it well. The criticism towards either individual astounds me.

The hatred towards other human beings, particularly when thrown like shit on the internet, who have been putting their lives on the line is a poison. It’s almost as sickening as a man who shoots 6 people, killing 4 and a beloved FBI dog.

What’s to heal those suffering? The ones who are experiencing emotions from loss of loved ones themselves, to loss of innocence, to anxiety and terror, to their own sudden urges towards violence? It certainly isn’t a continuation of the hatred and negativity that begat this whole terrible thing.

With these thoughts (although not knowing how it would all end), I drove in the opposite direction of the terror, escaping to my baby and my husband’s parents. We ate Chinese. We watched the national news of our shooting (OUR shooting), coming second only to the news of the new pope. We drank tea. It was good to be safe and away from the scene, but I just couldn’t find comfort. Not when my husband was driving towards it to exchange tapes and feed the cats, getting me a change of PJs and underwear (and forgetting to get anything for himself).

He finally arrived at 11 to the bedroom he had as a teenager, with his distraught wife and sleepy baby anxiously awaiting him. He told me he’d have to be on stand-by to give updates from the scene on the morning news, if the now-bunkered-down villain didn’t give up or die during the night. After some chatting, he slept. I couldn’t close my eyes without the man’s picture, then all the other recent shooters’ faces popping into my head, suddenly distorting with evil eyes and monstrously sharp teeth and devilish faces. Nightmares, but I wasn’t sleeping.

At 3am, Dave got up and prepared to go back to the scene. There were no developments. Law enforcement of all walks of life were indeed waiting outside Glory Days. Was he already dead? Was he waiting to ambush them further? We didn’t know. I hated that Dave was going, but knew it was for the best; thousands of people wanted to know.

He started his live shots at 5am from the scene. Around 5:15, he texted that he’d be on the Today Show with a short live report. First at 7:30, then adjusted to 7:10. I texted several people. It was exciting, but I still wished it wasn’t so. Not for this reason.

He did an astoundingly professional, careful job. I was proud. I was terrified that he seemed so close to the action. I left, having brushed my teeth with my finger, to a snowy, terribly different commute to work. On my way, Dave informed me that it was “not public knowledge” but that they were going in. A little afterwards, my mother texted me that he was dead. Thirty (although the footage looks more like fifty) men and an FBI K-9 ambushed him in a room with a closed door. He shot and killed that gorgeous, 2-year-old dog on its first assignment, and in an instant he was taken out. As I write this, his body is still at the scene, over 24 hours later.

It was over. The outpouring of love and upset over the dog was incredible, and I felt it, too. Why is it that someone shooting other humans is deplorable, but a man adding a dog to his list is worse? Perhaps because dogs are so obedient, trusting. Maybe. Either way, every death and injury is reverberating in nearly every local’s head, still today.

I hesitated to return home that afternoon. I dragged my feet. I called my mom as I left, admitting my fear. Of course, it was all over, but the images of the SWAT team on our street and, ultimately, the concept that the place I had lived my entire life (both Mohawk and Herkimer) had given me a false sense of security. They say “this just doesn’t happen here.” Some argue that point, but it sure as hell feels that way. I was emotionally shattered. I couldn’t fathom what the families and friends of victims felt, but I couldn’t rationalize myself out of a panic attack.

As I unlocked the door, the sobbing hit me. As I walked in and scooped up Jasper, holding him for 10 minutes straight, the sobbing turned to wailing. The wailing that Hadley does when he’s having a night terror. It was physically impossible to stop. I tried to get it out of my brain, but I just kept thinking ‘Mohawk and Herkimer’. When loved ones had passed, I could rationalize that they were maybe in a better place, or that there’d be good times again. I tried to think about my baby and his birthday this summer. No. This could happen any day of the week. Anywhere. Stopping to get gas on the Thruway. At school. During an attempted robbery. Anytime. I couldn’t hide from it and couldn’t shake the fact.

I finally picked myself up and dragged myself, still wailing and sobbing, through the house. Feeding the boys their snack, all while they looked at me, confused. Getting ready to take a shower in hopes that it would wash the fear away. My phone rang, and it was my mom.

She was outside my house. She knew I was in rough shape, but also knew that I needed to be alone. She had just come by in case I needed her. She left to let me take my shower, saying in a loving way that “this is why we live everyday. You just never know.” I called Dave when he texted that he was on his way and begged him to hurry. By the time he got home, the wailing had minimized but the emotions were still there.

He thought something else had happened, not sure why I was taking it so rough. I explained it and, although he didn’t understand (and also didn’t see why I was so terrified that he was close to the scene), he comforted me. He provided a distraction with stories of his work day, which had been “shortened” to a 12-hour day after a previous 15-hour day. After some tea, the Great Comforter, he went upstairs to mess around on his computer and finally nap…until bedtime. I called my sister-in-law, whom I hadn’t spoken to for months. It was a welcome distraction.

As we settled into our previous routine, I felt detached. Detached from the baby’s storytime. Detached from whatever I usually do to get him to close his eyes. Detached from the cat snuggling between us. I slept, but only because my body demanded it.

I awoke, still in a state of shock, but dedicated to looking into an upcoming fundraiser for the families to provide proper burials to their beloved men. I awoke hoping to find positivity in the midst of 24 hours that we valley folk will remember for lifetimes. It’s our 9/11. Our school fire. Our JFK. But, we’re a family. We may not all love each other everyday, but we do for each other without a second thought. If only we could have done for this shooter before he decided to change our lives forever.

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