April 20th, 2022. A lot of things happened on this day, historically. It was the anniversary of Columbine (4/20/96), as well as Hitler’s birthday.
When I woke up on the 20th, I had an odd feeling in my stomach that something ominous could be on the horizon. Despite the gut feeling, I chose to carry on with my day and reside my energy in a place that wasn’t soaked in fear.
As the day progressed, it took more and more energy to stay in a positive state. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle to paste on a smile. Other times, there’s something at play.
In efforts to break the energy of the day, I made plans to go for ice cream with my family. Atlas in tow, our first stop was a frozen yogurt shop at a small shopping center in Lewisville, Texas. Despite being windy, it felt like a perfect way to spend the evening.
Eventually, we found ourselves in a Goodwill thrift store, shopping for Atlas. After picking out a few toys and articles of clothing (including a ridiculously cute leather jacket) we explored the book section in the back of the store. We spent more time in that section than any other, and Atlas managed to stay calm the entire time – though his ‘timer’ was ticking.
He started to get fussy, and we decided it was time to call it a night and check out with the cashier. Suddenly, the doors of the store opened and two young men ran into the store, screaming:
Help! There’s a man with a gun chasing us!
You don’t have a lot of time to react in these scenarios. Part of me wanted to believe they were students filming a vlog or piece of content for instagram. The other part of me realized it was 2022 – and bad things happen.
The two young men ran into the store and a man slowly walked into the building. Cool, calm and collected. It looked like he was carrying a bumpy black knife – or rifle – in his hands. I didn’t stop to check.
We quickly looked for an exit, pausing briefly to consider hiding in a bathroom. That would be a dead end, something told me. “No. Not the bathroom. The back exit.”
Pushing through the double-wide doors, we found ourselves in the back storeroom where all of the items were processed. Something told me to look up and find the closest emergency exit sign.
“That way. Go!”
We entered a small staff office which appeared to be a dead end, before turning the corner and seeing an emergency exit door in the back. Pushing it open, the siren began to scream as we ran out of the back of the building for our lives.
I pushed Atlas in his stroller faster than he had ever been as we approached the far end of the shopping center. It was then that I realized we might be running directly toward the reported gunman, instead of away. The air was filled with the sound of police sirens. This was real.
“Push Atlas. I’ll check ahead” I shouted to his Mom. We stopped to exchange his stroller and I raced towards the other end of the building faster than I had ever run.
Seeing the ‘all clear’ I signaled for her to continue running toward me. It was then that I noticed a white car approaching us.
The car had three occupants, and they made eye contact with me as they passed by. They looked like angry thugs, and I felt scared for my life that a weapon would emerge from the car.
We sprinted away from the car and ran toward a bank. It was there that another white car pulled up beside us. Two men wearing bulletproof vests emerged from the car and screamed at us to get to our knees and put our hands up.
They were police officers – yet I realized we were in a situation that is ripe with ‘accidents’.
”Hands up! Don’t shoot!” I shouted to her, as well as the officers. “We’re down!”
We quickly did our best to explain to them that we were not the shooters and that we had escaped the scene. They quickly left us to continue the chase, leaving us to run to the front of the bank and catch our breath.
We took a few moments to pause before walking quickly to the car and leaving the scene, while the sound of sirens continues to scream through the air.
In that moment, I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me that our family was safe. In my entire life, I’ve never encountered a situation like this (and pray it never happens again) where I felt unsafe; uncertain if my life would come to an end.
As a Dad, I am deeply concerned that Atlas will grow up in a world where these events feel normal. It wasn’t the world I grew up with, at least I thought it wasn’t. Now, the times feel as if they have changed and it’s becoming more of a danger to leave your home – or carry on a ‘normal’ life – than ever before.
I wrestle with how to respond to a scenario like this, other than to be grateful for our safety and to create a plan for how to encounter the possibility of this occurring in the future.
At 34 years-old, this is the first scenario I’ve ever encountered where I felt as if I might be put into a position of laying down my life for the ones I love. As we exited the building, I yelled “Run in front of me!” knowing if the shooter were to emerge, my body would stand in the way.
At the time, there was one thought going through my mind: keep your family safe, no matter the cost.
I will never forget this moment. The memories still scar my mind with flashbacks that I continue to process.
Today, I am ever thankful for the safety and security of my family. I am grateful that Atlas is loved, cared for and fiercely guarded by an entire village of people who want nothing more than for him to be happy, healthy and well.