The first police car – an SUV – zoomed down Russell Road at a speed unusual even for police cars. Then the next. And another.
I watched as my dog poked along despite the heat. Sniffing. Rolling in hay where a neighbor is planting grass. Growling at a cat.
Within a few minutes I had counted 25 police cars. Based on the number, I guessed they were headed toward a murder-suicide. Probably not so far away.
I checked Twitter. Nothing yet.
My 31/2 year old son was awake when I got home.
He was sitting on the floor in Elmo pajamas doing a puzzle of construction equipment.
“Do you hear the police cars?” I asked.
He looked up at me as they wailed in the background.
“Daddy, no,” he said. “Those sirens sound like fire trucks.”
The first alert came at 7:30 a.m., and the subsequent notifications became increasingly worse. I walked to the Metro.
By then I had seen the news about the shooting. It was just a half mile from my house. I had emailed my mom and called my dad. Subject line: “We are ok.” I assured them we were safe. I had traded texts with friends. Subject line: “Everything cool with you guys?”
We were fine.
(This is fine?)
The email from the preschool director arrived at 9:14 a.m. Subject line: “We all are fine.”
“As most of you know,” the email starts, “there was a shooting in the vicinity” of the school this morning.
“Lockdown is now lifted and we are perfectly fine.”
The tone was nonchalant, no different than a lice outbreak or parent-teacher announcement.
The language carried a small comfort, a reassurance that while the outside world is terrifying, preschool remains – still – a bubble.
By the evening, a sense of normalcy returns. At 5:41 p.m., an email from my congressman. Subject line: “This morning's shooting.”
“I know that many of us, and our children who were en route to school, are shaken,” it reads. “Please give yourselves time and space to cope, talk to family and friends, and know that our neighborhoods really are quite safe.”
Before you are a parent, friends say you cannot imagine what being a parent is like.
I was naive.
I did not imagine preschool lockdowns.
I did not imagine this.
Mike Gruss, a former Journal Gazette reporter, lives in Alexandria, Virginia, where he is an editor.