A parent's longest wait

Lucie Amundsen
Lucie Amundsen: Words like "the school is in lockdown" do not immediately make sense.
Submitted photo

Lucie Amundsen is a Duluth writer and graduate student and co-owner of Locally Laid Egg Company. She is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.

Nearly five years ago, I went to my children's elementary school to drop off a pair of snow pants. A state trooper approached me in the parking lot with an upheld hand. I wouldn't be allowed inside; the school was in lockdown.

His words didn't really make sense to me. Hearing Friday's news from Newtown, Conn., I suspect words like these never do.

"A drill?" I asked, just as a dozen emergency vehicles arrived on the scene. Officers and firefighters moved with a practiced and fearsome urgency. The trooper never answered.

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Nettleton Elementary is "up the hill," as they say in Duluth, where the view of the region's famous lift bridge is completely unobstructed. Students looking out the windows can take in both the grand expanse of Lake Superior and its industrious traffic of 1,000-foot freighters and smaller, international "salty" ships.

In short, the view is idyllic. And it's a place where things like this don't happen — like every place where misfortune eventually happens.

Though it was winter, it wasn't cold enough for me to be shaking as I was, diverted to a nearby side street where I could still see the school. There was nothing to do but imagine my third grade daughter and kindergartner son, likely huddled somewhere, likely wanting their mother. I also envisioned their teachers, frightened for not only themselves, but also for their burden of so, so many children.

I put my hand on my heart and sent my children love, then quietly retched in some nearby bushes. I realized I was still holding the snow pants.

It was a long half hour that officials searched the building, finally giving an all-clear. The whole event was like the sickening screech of tires that, this time, did not end in the smash of metal.

Later, we learned that someone had phoned in a hoax, claiming a teacher had been shot.

As the first civilian in the building, I had the odd experience of bringing news to the school staff. "What happened? Was there a gunman? Was anyone killed?"

I took my children home early. My daughter said she had only worried for her little brother. The brother reported that he had to sit down in the coatroom on his boots, "and hide behind our coats to make sure no one killed us."

It seemed like a milestone. I wrote the quote down in his baby book.