From the series: Life on Dog Hill
The Friday before Memorial Day weekend and just two weeks before my youngest son Ryan finished his fourth grade year, a woman was slain in front of his school by her estranged husband. It was just after 2:00 p.m, minutes before the end of the school day, when Chahnaz Kebaier arrived to pick up her 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. She never made it through the front door.
When multiple gun shots rang out, my son was standing at his teacher’s desk and heard what sounded like raps on the classroom’s second floor window overlooking the front of the school. Naturally the children were curious and many, including my son, crowded the windows looking for signs of someone outside knocking. What they saw was Ms. Kebaier lying on the sidewalk below.
As this scene played out, my husband and I sat at a little restaurant on the other side of town. It was a late lunch for us, but we were happy for the upcoming long weekend. Working chopsticks through my noodles, I heard my phone beep with the arrival of a new email. Normally I ignore interruptions during meals but, as the universe would have it, I picked up my phone and looked. The email was from the elementary school informing parents that they were under lockdown and the children’s release from school would be delayed. No additional details were provided. I gasped out loud.
From across the table my husband looked up from his meal with concern. I knew the reasons why a school would go into lockdown and the first thing that came to my mind was a gun. I immediately began googling for news on what might have happened. The next 15 minutes were nerve-wrecking but a second email confirmed someone had been shot and transported to the hospital but that all the children were unharmed and safe. The school remained in lockdown until the shooter was apprehended shortly thereafter.
When I met my son at the bus stop more than an hour later than normal, he hopped off the bus with a look of concern and relief. When I told him what happened, he relayed how he and his classmates had looked down on the victim and how he thought she had either been hit by a car or shot. Fortunately, the teacher had quickly sized up the situation as he looked out of the window along with the children. He immediately moved the children away from the window and closed the blinds — essentially following procedure for lockdown even before the announcement came over the classroom speaker. His attention to the situation saved the children from seeing the evidence of her injury as her blood began to cover the sidewalk.
This morning as I drove Ryan to soccer camp he noticed caution tape around the home plate of the baseball field.
“Why do you think that is?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I answered. Wanting to encourage his imagination I suggested we think of six reasons why there might be caution tape around the home plate. “Maybe it’s muddy,” I offered, starting the process.
“The police put tape up at my school after that woman was killed. Maybe someone was shot,” he said.
It didn’t escape me that he automatically linked yellow tape with the school shooting and I wondered how often he thought of the tragedy. This was the first reference I’d heard him make since the week before school ended, but in this moment I let it go. “Maybe they replanted the home plate and don’t want it disturbed while it settles,” I suggested, as another possibility.
“Yeah, maybe,” he responded, thoughtfully.
I pulled into a parking space under the shade of a tree and helped him unload his gear for camp. After ensuring he had plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant, I watched as he kicked his ball onto the field to join the other kids.
During the day I found myself thinking about the surprising morning conversation and wondered what, if anything, I should say to him. When I picked him up from camp in the afternoon, I was eager to hear the highlights of the day. He began to tell me but then stopped short as we passed the baseball fields. “You know, I think you’re right, Mom. They are replanting the home plate at the baseball field. See, there’s tape around all of them.”
“That makes sense,” I agreed and then asked him the question that had burning in my mind all day. “Do you think much about the shooting?”
“No, I’d actually forgotten about it until today,” he told me and then quickly launched into stories about the day’s event.
As he chatted, I took one last look at the baseball field and the caution tape flapping in the gentle breeze and wondered if yellow tape would always bring his mind back to the day in late May when his eyes rested on a dying woman.
Police image found here.