I grabbed a coffee and sat next to Becca at our usual table in the cafeteria. “Hey, how’s your day going?”
“Boring,” she said. “Haven’t had any real patients, just rounds on yesterday’s surgeries.”
“I wouldn’t be able to work with the kids all day,” I sighed. “It would make me too sad.”
Jenna sat down next to me with an extremely greasy and sad looking cheeseburger. “Hey, Becca, I’m treating your son’s ex-girlfriend today.”
“Really? What happened?” Becca asked, tracing the rim of her soda with her finger.
“She tried to commit suicide,” Jenna replied. “And her parents are…interesting. She’s been here over twenty four hours and I have yet to see her parents. I’m about ready to report them to child services. It’s ridiculous.”
Becca shook her head in dismay. “She used to spend a lot of time with Doug to get away from them. Honestly, I didn’t even know they had broken up.”
I raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of my coffee. “Teenager’s lives are like soap operas sometimes. It’s hard to keep up.”
“Not with them,” Becca said, surprised. “It seemed like they really cared for each other. I’m sort of amazed. More so that I didn’t even know about it, you know?”
“She told me that Doug broke up with her,” Jenna said.
“Why?” Becca frowned.
Jenna shook her head. “You’d have to ask Doug. All she would tell me was that he said it wasn’t anything with her, that it was all him.”
“I see,” Becca answered.
“I’m glad Lanie’s not really into dating,” I interjected. “I’m not ready for any of this stuff yet.”
“Rich is too busy doing other stuff, studying and doing test prep. He told me he doesn’t want to let a relationship get in the way, that he had the rest of his life to fall in love. He threw something in about how no one falls in love in high school. He’s probably right about that.” Jenna took a big bite out of her cheeseburger, and I cringed as the grease dripped back down onto her plate.
“That’s disgusting,” I said.
“What?” she asked, looking right at me and shaking the burger over the plate so that more grease splattered the table.
I laughed. “Hospital food. Blah.”
“Doug’s been acting really weird lately,” Becca interjected. “I’m worried about him.”
“What’s up?” Jenna asked.
Becca shook her head uncertainly. “I’m not sure. He’s been really quiet. This morning, I know he heard Gabriel and I fighting about him. And now this. I can’t believe he broke up with Jodi…” She looked down into her lap, wringing her hands together. “I feel like I don’t even know him anymore. The son that I know would have told me about breaking up with his girlfriend, and I knew nothing. I hate that.”
“He’s a teenager,” I responded, giving her hand a squeeze. “He’ll come back to you.”
“Sure,” she said, finishing off her pudding cup and throwing it away in the garbage can. “I sure hope so.”
Doug leaned against the front door, feeling the weight of the chains in his hands. He wove one end of the chain through the front door, wrapping it again and again before locking it with a padlock. “Nobody’s getting out,” he whispered to nobody in particular. “Nobody leaves.”
Running rapidly through the hallway, he made it to the door on the other side of the school and repeated the chaining process. “Nothing in,” he said, “nothing out.”
Walking back down the hallway, he stopped in front of the cafeteria. Doug listened to the screams inside as the second explosion ripped through the school. Shoving the chain through the handles, he sealed everyone in the cafeteria inside. “Nobody gets out,” he whispered, too quietly for anybody inside to hear.
A teacher down the hall stuck his head out the door of his classroom as the roar of the second explosion hung in the air. His eyes lighting on Doug, he asked, “Son, what are you doing?”
Doug reached around his back and tugged on his gun sling, hauling his rifle up to action.
“Son, put the gun down,” the teacher whispered. “Put the gun down.” He held his hands up and took a few slow steps in Doug’s general direction. “Nobody needs to get hurt here.”
Doug focused on the man as he approached, holding the rifle steady. “Nobody gets out,” he whispered.
“What was that, son?” the teacher asked quietly, taking another tentative step.
“Don’t call me son,” Doug said in a monotone, pulling his finger back on the trigger.
The bullet struck the teacher in the chest, and he fell backwards, seeming to Doug to be in slow motion. Doug fired two more shots through the open door of the classroom before stepping over the teacher’s unmoving body and continuing on down the hall.
“What was that?” somebody yelled. “What the heck was that?”
Another sudden wave of sound rocked the cafeteria, and the window pane that was nearest to Lanie shattered. Lanie hit the ground, rolling out of the way of the glass, as one of the girls behind her screamed.
“Lanie!” Rich cried out, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her back beside the table with Cassie. “What’s going on? What was that?”
Lanie shook her head rapidly, her eyes wide as she tried to take everything in. “I’m not sure,” she stammered. “Why are you asking me?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I have absolutely no idea.”
“It sounded like something was blowing up,” Cassie’s voice shook. “Like an explosion.”
The lights in the cafeteria flickered twice and went out. A crackling sound rippled through the lights in the ceiling as the emergency generator clicked in, and every third light came back to life. Students crowded at the window, peering out towards the student parking lot. “Oh my god,” somebody whispered, followed by a lot of other mumblings and a general wave of panic. “It’s on fire!”
Lanie pushed through the crowd and pressed her palms up against the glass, trying to see the parking lot clearly. Feeling her breath catch in her lungs, she pushed away from the glass and spun towards Rich. “Rich, there’s a car on fire. There’s a car on fire in the lot.”
Students were pushing away from the window in waves, streaming for the door. Some of the kids were dissolving into tears, being moved along in the flow of people traffic by their peers. There was a clog at the head of the line, and Rich pushed through. “What’s the problem? We need to get out of here,” he snapped, pushing on the door. No matter how hard Rich pushed against the door, he couldn’t get it to open. “It’s stuck,” he said, pushing on it again. “Somebody help me. Somebody strong.”
One of the other boys stepped up to the door and they pushed on it together. “There’s something on the other side,” Rich said, stepping back in defeat. “It’s not going to open.”
There was a cracking sound in the hallway and Rich turned away from the door. “What is that?” Lanie asked, pushing closer to Rich.
“We need to get away from the door,” he said, steering Lanie back towards the middle of the room. “Everybody!” he yelled. “We need to get back, get away from the door! We can’t go out there.”
“Rich?” Lanie said again. “What is it? What is it?”
There was a series of pops from the hallway, and a series of screams. Somebody next to Lanie started to sob, “That’s a gun, it’s a gun, it’s a gun, oh my…”
The sound of gunshots moved away down the hall, and Rich said, “Everyone stay quiet. You all need to stay quiet.” Most of the crowd around them sank down to the floor in shock.
I leaned against the counter down in the pit. “I want my patient moved up to a room for the night. She checked out okay, but I want to keep an on eye on her for the day just to be safe.”
“All right,” the nurse nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”
Becca drifted up behind me, reaching around me to grab a chart off the counter. “Is this my case?”
“Just leaning here,” I smiled. “Contrary to proper belief, I do not know everything.”
A beeping sound drifted up, and I lifted my pager up to peer down at it, just as Becca’s did the same.
“They’re calling all attendings to the second floor conference room?” she frowned. “Do you know what’s up?”
I laughed as we hopped into the elevator, repeating, “Like I said, contrary to popular belief, I do not know everything.”
We rode the elevator, hopping out into a crowd of buzzing attendings. I raised an eyebrow, slipping out to lean next to the wall by Jenna. “Something’s going on,” she said, turned to look at me out of the corner of her eye while maintaining her gaze on the rest of the crowd with the other eye.
Pursing my lips together, I nodded. “Because I have nothing better to do than to sit in the middle of a crowded hallway. Not like I have patients or anything.”
Filing into the conference room, precious few doctors got seats and the rest of us crowded the walls.
Dr. Thade, the chief of staff at the hospital stood up in the corner, the chief of surgery by her side. “I know that not all of you are in the specific surgery field. However, we do have a need right now for all hands on deck, so we want to keep everybody informed.”
“What’s going on?” somebody asked.
“There are reports of shots fired at the high school.”
Lanie leaned back against Rich as they huddled underneath the table he had flipped up sideways.
“What do we do?” she hissed. “What are we supposed to do now?”
He shrugged, peering at the still closed doors over the top of the table. “I’m…not sure. Little beyond my scope of smarts here, Lanie.”
The study hall monitor pushed out from behind a clutch of kids, walking slowly to the center of the room while steadying his glasses on his nose.
“Where’s he been?” Cassie snapped.
“Cool it,” Lanie shot back.
“We need to file out the back doors of the cafeteria in an orderly fashion. I think we should be able to get out the side door back by the freezers, the one where they make deliveries.”
A mad throng of students was suddenly pushing for the side door.
“Orderly!” the monitor screamed. “Orderly!”
I found myself sinking to the floor, Jenna and Becca right beside me. “Which high school?” Jenna asked, digging her fingers into my left arm.
“Washington Heights,” Dr. Thade answered.
“Oh…wow…” I whispered under my breath. That was my daughter’s high school. There was only one thing running through my head at that point, and that was that I had to go there. I had to go to her right away.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. Those of you who are surgical attendings, we are splitting into two groups. One group will remain here to take care of the incomings. The other group will go to the school and help victims as they are brought out. At this point, we don’t know how many, or even if any, students are hurt. There’s not a lot we do know. But we are preparing.”
Doug stalked down the hallway, the school eerily silent. Seven steps. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. He put his hand on the doorknob of his father’s classroom and twisted. Locked. Using the butt of the rifle, he took a swing at the knob, to no avail.
He gave the window an experimental tap, once lightly, and then a little harder the second time. The glass splintered and gave way, and he pushed through and reached down for the doorknob. A chorus of sobbing met his ears as he pushed open the door.
Gabriel was boosting students up and out one of the side windows. Doug raised the rifle and leveled it at him. “Stop. Get away from the window.”
Putting up his hands, Gabriel backed slowly away from the window. Only three students remained in the classroom as the last one Gabriel had helped wiggled out the rest of the way. Crouching low to the ground, the three remaining students ducked behind an overturned desk as Gabriel held a hand out to his son.
“Doug? What’s going on?”
“Step away from the window,” Doug said again.
“Son,” Gabriel said, taking another careful step forward. “Nobody needs to get hurt, just give me the gun.”
“Don’t call me son,” Doug said for a second time. “You have no right to call me son.”
“You’re my son, Doug, you know that, you mean more to me than anything.”
“Then why do call me a disappointment? Why do you talk about me behind my back? You act like my life is some kind of a joke, Dad, well it’s not a joke to me. And it won’t be a joke to you anymore either.”
Gabriel took another step, keeping a student’s desk between he and his son. “Doug…”
“You keep telling me I’m nothing, Dad,” he said, taking a step in the opposite direction from his father. “You keep telling me I’m nothing, but it’s not true, Dad.” Waving the rifle around, he said, “I’m something now, right? I’m something now.”
“I didn’t mean to be a disappointment, Dad. I wasn’t trying to be. But maybe the disappointment here isn’t even me. Maybe it’s you.”
“Doug, I was was wrong, I…”
“Get on your knees,” Doug hissed.
“There’s nothing wrong with being ordinary,” Gabriel stammered. “There’s nothing wrong with you, son, it was me who was wrong, and if you give me the gun, we can fix it.”
“We won’t fix anything. I’m going to fix things.” Doug jabbed the rifle at his father. “Get on your knees, now,” he said, a little more harshly.
Gabriel dropped to his knees and closed his eyes, sucking in his breath so that by the time the bang came he felt nothing at all.
Doug turned away from where his father lay and walked around the desk, leveling the rifle at the three remaining students and pulling the trigger three times in rapid succession.
Becca and I sat together in the ambulance, our trauma kits in our laps. “How do we know what to expect?” she whispered.
“We don’t,” I said, shaking my head. “I guess we just don’t.”
“How do we find our kids?” her voice shook.
“I don’t know, Becca. I just don’t know.”
“I wonder if they’re together,” she mused, “if they at least have each other?”
Dr. Thade turned around in the front seat to face the group of us in the back. “We’ve gotten word from the police that this is a mass casualty event. The school is not secure, we need to stay back and treat people off the premises until we get the okay to move onto the property. Normal triage procedure will apply. Assess, perform basic treatment, tag, and move on. Red tags are critical. Yellow tags are secondary to the red tags, all red tag victims get loaded and shipped to hospitals first. Green tags are minor, use these on all people with less severe injuries. Use the colored tags system, it’s extremely important to rate the victims in order of precedence. Resources on scene are focused on those who have the greatest chance of survival. Red tags will be transported to the nearest hospital after they are stabilized, and will be treated there. Try to get patient names. There are a lot of parents out there waiting for information.” Dr. Thade locked eyes with me before asking, “Are there any questions?”
“Lanie could be hurt,” I whispered. “How am I supposed to find her…?”
Becca shook her head aimlessly as the ambulance came to a stop. “We treat people, and we let them come to us, I guess.”
The back doors came open, and we stepped out onto the asphalt.
Smoke billowed from a car in the middle of the student lot. There were people everywhere, across the lot and the lawns. Police officers with guns were herding the students and teachers off the property, directing the wounded and those assisting them to the makeshift triage area.
“Oh my…” Becca clutched her triage bag to her chest, whirling around in a circle to take everything in. “Oh…”
I forced everything around me out, trying not to picture Lanie lying somewhere, hurt. “I can’t think about those red tags,” I whispered to Becca. “If I think about those red tags, I think about my daughter being a red tag…and I can’t think about that right now.”
“Me either. Let’s just…”
“Be positive?” I offered.
She nodded, and we made our way towards the throng.
“It’s locked,” Rich said, pushing on the delivery door. “It must be locked from the outside. It won’t budge.”
“Crap,” the study hall monitor murmured. “Now what?”
“Isn’t that your job?” one of the other boys snapped.
The room filled with bitter bickering.
Doug carefully pulled the chain out of the cafeteria doors, letting it fall to the tile with a clang that echoed through the now empty hall. Sirens echoed outside the school, and could he someone in the distant yelling on some sort of bullhorn. Pulling open the door to the cafeteria, he slipped inside.
Lanie leaned back against the wall, pulling her hair back and hoisting it up off of her neck. “Rich, if it…if anything happens…I…I want…”
“Don’t talk like that,” he whispered. “Don’t even think like that. Everything’s going to be fine. We’re going to be fine.”
“No, I need to tell you something, I…”
“Lanie, it’s okay. We’ll be fine,” Rich insisted.
Doug followed the sounds of arguing back into the kitchen. He at first blended into the crowd of students, until one of the girls saw the rifle in his hands and began to scream.
Lanie saw the rifle and slid down the wall to the ground. “Doug…” she whispered, so quietly that no one could hear her over the chaos. “Doug…what are you doing?”
“That’s it,” Doug said, pointed the rifle towards Lanie. “Everybody sit down on the floor. And shut up. I don’t want to hear you talking.”
Rich put one arm around Lanie and one arm around Cassie. “Doug?” he asked. “What’s going on? What are you doing?”
Doug walked through the people on the floor and right up to Rich, leveling the barrel at his forehead. “No questions. You guys are my way out of here. Sit down, shut up, don’t try to move, and nobody gets hurt.”
Becca wrapped a blanket around another one of the non-injured students and kept moving. “My son. Doug Watkins. Has anybody seen my son?”
Several students shook their heads, parting ways for a girl who was lying on the ground surrounded by a small group. “Watkins?” she whispered. “Mr. Watkins saved my life. He pushed me out the window…right as…”
“Gabriel…” Becca whispered.
I shrugged past her, bending down to treat the cuts of the girl on the ground.
“Gabriel saved you? Mr. Watkins?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “I was…in his English class. We heard the explosions, and then there were these popping sounds in the hall getting closer and closer.” She began to sob, tears streaming down her cheeks as she continued. “He started shoving kids out the window. He just kept telling us to move, move…”
“Did any of you see Doug Watkins? My son, Gabriel’s son?” Becca asked.
“Doug?” the girl on the ground frowned, almost seeming to stop breathing. “Doug Watkins…he’s the one doing the shooting.”
Becca wavered on her feet before sinking down to the ground. I caught her before she hit totally. “Gabriel…what happened to Gabriel?” she whimpered.
The girl on the ground shook her head. “I was the last one out.”
I wrapped a blanket around my best friend’s shoulders and steered her over to the man who was hollering orders into the bullhorn. Pushing aside my fear for Lanie, I tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around, Becca said quietly, “It’s my son. My son is the shooter.”
I moved away from Becca in the crowd, leaving her with the police officer. Scanning the crowd, I prayed for any sign of my daughter, searching the heads for her beacon of bright red hair. There was nothing. I knew deep within my gut that my daughter was still somewhere inside the building.