GUNMAN AT SCHOOL
Jessie stepped tentatively into the viewing room. Impressions of light wood and peach walls, fragrant flowers and instrumental hymns swirled round her. A tissue was wadded tightly in her hand. Before her lay the honey-hued coffin, displayed at waist height, open to reveal the occupant. Quiet mourners filed past, each paying their last respects.
A sob caught in her throat as vivid pictures flashed through her mental theater. The phone call, the crazy rush to get to Cody’s school. The banks of distressed parents, held back by police tape and armed officers. Panicked rumors that shot through the crowd like lightning bolts.
“They say the shooter is one of the pupils.”
“Some of the girls managed to get away.”
“Tracey-Leigh said he’s holding ten boys hostage in the gym.”
“Police are interviewing pupils in the hall.”
Eventually, the teenagers had spilled out of the school, shock and horror inscribed in frozen features. The crowd dispersed slowly, relieved parents hugging their children, clumps of humanity drifting to their cars, their peace restored.
There were only a handful left. The commander of the SWAT team had asked for names. Which children were not accounted for. They were all sons. Sixteen and seventeen year olds in the grip of a crazed class mate. Jessie remembered the eyes of the SWAT commander. Green depths of determination and courage. “We’re going in to get those boys.” He had assured them. “Pray for us. Pray for your sons.”
The shots had ricocheted through her senses a few minutes later. She’d sobbed and screamed for Cody as the police restrained her, stopped her as she fought to get through the barriers.
She heard later what had happened. The teenage gunman had thirteen hostages in the gym. Negotiations had failed and the SWAT team had taken up their positions. As they burst in, the gunman had opened fire, aiming at the closest target, Cody. Jessie scrubbed at her eyes as she imagined how it had happened. The fear, the raw terror, the adrenaline rush.
“Ma’am, would you like to move forward.” The funeral director was reserved, obsequious. It was her turn to view the body. Gripping Cody’s hand, they moved together towards the coffin.
“Thank you.” She whispered as she laid her hand on the cold, still hand of the SWAT commander. The man who’d thrown himself between the shooter and Cody. “Words are hopelessly inadequate, but thank you. Thank you for saving my son.”
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