The Denver Metro area was rocked this week as our schools were shut down due to an alert the FBI put out that there was a “credible threat” to our schools. Just days before the 20th anniversary of the Columbine Massacre, schools in the area in and around Columbine were on lockout as a massive manhunt was underway.
As a mother with a child enrolled in a school just two and a half miles from Columbine, my first thoughts went to my child and a concern for her safety. Because the threat was “non-specific,” it could have meant anything. It could have meant that the suspect was nearby or nowhere close.
I mourned that this is our current reality—this wasn’t our first lockout since my daughter started school seven years ago. She was in elementary school when the Arapahoe High School shooting happened just a mile away. Heck, this wasn’t our first lockout this school year.
When my child returned safely home, I hugged her tightly and my thoughts turned to the survivors of the Columbine shooting and how triggering this event had to be for them. I was filled with mixed feelings all evening. Although we were at a friend’s house saying goodbye to their foreign exchange student, the evening turned somber as we talked about the situation at hand and discussed how we would handle the following day if school wasn’t canceled.
We kept checking the school website for updates, but as the night wore on without any news, we decided to call it a night and head home. We live across the street from another area high school and the neighborhood was quiet. Whatever was happening with the suspect wasn’t happening in our neighborhood.
Not long after we got home, school was canceled across the city. While I felt better knowing I didn’t have to make the decision between my child’s life and her education, I still felt uneasy and I didn’t know why. It was a night of restless sleep, peppered with bouts of anxiety in my waking moments. I had dreams about a sniper coming for me and shooting my daughter. I have this dream often, so I didn’t think much of it.
I allowed myself to sleep in, but as soon as I awoke, I turned to social media for news updates. I engaged in debates over gun policy and mental health support. I posted commentaries from my fellow parents about why our reality is so awful. I waited for an answer as to what this terrorist was thinking, coming to our city during this sacred week of mourning and threatening our children. I was only one of a half million families living in this story and even that fact upset me.
I watched press conferences with tears in my eyes, the emotion uncontrolled and unexplainable. I was grieving for my city, famous not for its beauty and sense of community, but because of the gun violence that has happened several times within our neighborhoods. And the moment the news came that the suspect had been found, I breathed a sigh of relief.
And then I crashed.
I wasn’t able to get any work done today because I couldn’t focus. I was in a fog and I was exhausted. I chatted a little with my best friend and a little with my mom and then I took a nap. My body ached all over and I felt heavy. I was sad for the state of things and grateful that the ordeal had a far less tragic ending than it could have been.
As I awoke from my nap, feeling rested but not refreshed, I realized that what was sitting underneath all of my emotion was its familiarity. This was exactly how I felt the week leading up to my dad’s arrest.
Late in the summer of 2014, my parents were at the beginning of their divorce. Despite agreeing to an amicable separation, emotions escalated between the two of them quickly. My dad, who has bipolar disorder, had been unmedicated for several months and was in a manic phase.
When my mom had him served with an order of protection, his mania turned into full-blown hysteria. He began threatening my mom by way of me and my siblings. At one point, his threats were directed at my brother. None of us knew what he was thinking.
For a full week, we had no idea where he was or if his threats were only that or if he was seriously thinking of hurting our mother. My mom and brother feared for their lives. My sister and I, both living far away from home, felt completely helpless. Every time the phone rang, I jumped. If it was an unknown number, my skin crawled and I expected the worst news.
It was the not knowing where he was that was the hardest part of it all. We didn’t know if he was alive or dead, if he was armed and dangerous, or if he would show up at any of our doorsteps at any point (and if he did show up, were we safe?). He would send texts and pictures that would seem as if he were in one location, when in fact, he was sending them days or even months after they had been taken.
I was on edge that entire week. We used every call and every text to figure out where he was. The night of his arrest, I finally realized that he was in the last place anyone would look for him: at home. I texted my mom and she called the police. I was on the phone with him when law enforcement arrived and apprehended him. I didn’t know how that standoff ended until I got a collect call from the jail the next day.
As the stress and anxiety of the events released today, I realized that I had been triggered. In the 24 hours it took from being aware of our local threat to the drama’s conclusion, I relived all of the trauma of 2014. I just didn’t realize it until hours later when I couldn’t move and I was in physical pain.
Trauma is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it and it will take you down at the knees. Sometimes you can be triggered and not even know why or how. Today, I knew something was wrong, but it took stepping outside of what I was feeling to even realize what was happening.
I hate that I was triggered by the events that happened in our community, but I am grateful that therapy has helped me to identify it and take care of myself as I get through the after effects of trauma. They never fully go away.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 or text RISE to 741741.