Throughout the three weeks of the sniper crisis, Marilyn Ochs, a teacher of gifted and talented students at Kensington Parkwood Elementary School, near one of the shootings, kept a journal. Here, she shares what life was like for teachers and studentsduring Code Blue:
Oct. 3: "We're in lockdown!" I whisper to my friend. "Find out what's going on for me and I'll call you back." "We're in Code Blue. Code Blue," the announcement said. Code Blue, Code Blue, people going up and down the halls saying this really loud. People around here don't ever talk this loudly, running up and down the halls to check that outside doors are locked. Now what was the difference between Code Blue and Code Red? Code Red you have to hide somewhere in the room, under tables, desks. How do you hide anyway? I check that the door is locked from the outside. I pull the blinds down and close them tight. All the children know is that there has been a schoolwide Code Blue. They don't ask anything.
Four shootings. All killed. All in Montgomery County.
A shooting in Kensington, at the Shell station. Kensington, that Kensington, a few blocks away from here? Can't be. Parents all over the building, offering to help, standing guard at all outside doors. Stunned, scared, calm. Some children are taken home. They look confused.
I walk the younger children to the bathroom one at a time, every one takes my hand to hold it. Not one asks what's going on.
I deliberately drive into Kensington, to the Shell station. 1.1 miles, I clock it. Had to know the exact number. Shooting was that close to the school.
Oct. 7: Meeting at Carver (the central office in Rockville). People running in and out to answer cell phones and make calls. What now? A child shot, middle school in [Prince George's] County. A woman yells out, 'My son goes to that school!' and trips and falls as she tries to run out. She's frantic.
Oct. 8: Picture day. Children smiling, dressed up. A close parent friend tells me her child told her that this might be her last picture taken. Parents taking off from work to help, some come dressed in business suits. Why are you here? Two parents give me the exact same answer: "This is ground zero." They take shifts guarding all doors, comfortable chairs, books to read, toddlers in tow. They can't imagine how much their presence helps.
Oct. 14: It's gone to a whole new level. To help relieve the stress of the teachers, parent volunteers, licensed massage therapists, are giving massages to the teachers during lunch. I'm stunned to see a teacher hunched over in a massage chair getting a massage, soft music playing, silence everywhere else.
"Marilyn, aren't you going to have one?" No, my idea of relaxation is six miles running on the Capital Crescent Trail. All these years, since May 15, 1995, I can count on one hand the days I've missed going on the trail. Until now.
Oct. 16: A fifth-grader told me this week, when he was telling me his team games were all canceled because of so many open fields near woods, "When did trees become our enemy?"
As the days go on, the cancellation of team sports is a recurring topic of conversation, and I can see the disappointment and hurt the girls and boys feel. They don't mention the lack of outdoor recess. But the adults think about it.
Chess club, computer club, chorus, art club, games club, math club, cards, CD players in rooms, the "Little Feet" lady having dancing with the children in the all-purpose room, a teacher doing Tae Bo with students, Macarena lessons, media center overflowing every day with children reading, looking at books, sitting with adult volunteers talking, lots of Kid Pix going on. All so the children could have a happy recess.
And . . . chocolate chip cookies, lots of homemade chocolate chip cookies lovingly made by our cafeteria manager for the children.
The superintendent's letter (always on yellow paper) coming at the end of every day now. I look for it, I wait for it. I'm not the only one. I start to think of these days as "waiting for the yellow sheet."
Oct. 21: "I need a hug," the child says. So do I. Hugs all around to staff standing nearby. We're tired of it. It's too long, it's too frightening. Talk in teachers' room of strategies for getting gas, going shopping. People get calls from friends and relatives all over the world. How are you? Are you safe?
Oct. 22: Another killing. Massive traffic jam. I wonder how much worse it will get. I soon find out. "Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time."
Oct. 23: For some reason this one feels like the worst, the bus driver getting ready for his day, father of two. I'm getting mad.
Oct. 25: "Everyone come to the teachers' room for breakfast" the call goes out. Lights off, lit candles all over, streamers, decorations, tablecloths, centerpieces, all in Halloween orange tones. Food everywhere. Silence. "Fake bubbly" is poured in special glasses and ceremoniously handed to each person, who all hold their glasses high. Toasts are made. We remember the victims.
Sounds of children arriving, laughing, smiling, giggling, hugging, pulling each other down the hall, falling down, getting up, skipping. I'm stunned as I realize what I was not hearing before. Not for three weeks.
We're going to count down all together. I want you to shout out with me as loudly as you can, I tell the children. "Five, four, three, two, one." As the countdown ends, I yank open the blinds on the classroom windows to let the light in for the first time in three weeks. The children cheer and run to the windows to look out. A child says, "The leaves turned colors and I didn't even know. I was too scared to go outside."
"YMCA." I hear the music coming out of the cafeteria during lunchtime. Come on in, my friend calls. I jump on the stage, first-graders sitting in front of me. I show them the hand movements for the song. I look down and see chocolate chip cookie crumbs all over the children's faces. I turn up the music really loud.
"YMCA." "YMCA." We're singing, we're dancing. A child asks me, "Is today a school day?"
I see a child in my fifth-grade class. "Are we going to write about it?" I don't answer. "It's one of our literature themes, you know, survival, how the human spirit overcomes adversity."
I turn left instead of right as I leave the school parking lot. 1.1 miles. I park in a lot facing the Kensington Shell station. Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25 years old, mother of a 3-year-old daughter. I read that her husband said at her funeral that the little girl understood that she had lost her mother, that she cried so hard for her mother. In one form or another, she'll cry for her mother for the rest of her life. I say a prayer, for her, for all the victims, and for all the suffering children.
I put in a CD. Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising," the one he made after 9/11. I know where I'm going. Capital Crescent Trail. I'm back.