We see all too often the news about mass shootings that happen every day. Never would I have thought that it could happen to me or around where I live. Gun violence in our nation has become a daily occurrence. It’s easy to maintain the idea that “this could never happen to me,”—but it did.
On the cold night of Thanksgiving, myself and four of my friends decided to hit Alabama’s largest enclosed mall in order to take advantage of the black Friday deals. As one might expect on Black Friday, the mall was extremely packed with everyone trying to cash in on those holiday savings. We happened to find ourselves in an overly crowded Victoria Secret when the evening took a turn for the worst.
I remember everyone was minding their own business, casually shopping. I remember the loud popping sounds that echoed throughout the mall. I remember the store clerks telling us to get down and stay down. I remember seeing the young man in front of me laying on top of his girlfriend to hopefully save her life. I remember wondering where my friends were and grabbing one of their legs trying not to cry. I remember seeing hundreds of people running towards the door as I sat there hoping that I would live past this moment.
No one knew what had happened. The screams I heard from everyone running away still resonate in my brain. We were in the middle of Victoria Secret and the Pink store everyone was instructed to evacuate as quickly as possible. The entrance door was just outside the Pink store. While running I could see people getting trampled under the crowds, and I was trying not to do the same. I grabbed one of my friends by the arm and dragged her out of the mall as we were running for our life.
Against all recommendations of what not to do during shootings I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder as I was running. I will never forget the feeling when I saw that all of my friends had made it safely out of the mall. I found myself running to them as we proceeded to evacuate, I didn’t even notice I was still turning my head every few seconds just praying that I would be okay—that everyone would be okay.
My sides were cramping from the cold and from the fact that I had never ran so fast in my life. My car was just around the corner and across the parking lot. As we tried to navigate ourselves to the safety of my car we were met with a wall of people running in the opposite direction. The madness made it difficult to even cross the road safely. After running behind the Sears auto center, we found a cement-block structure that provided us safe coverage from the commotion.
We finally caught our breath and I called my mom. I was so scared for my life and called her to tell her I loved her, and my friends did the same with their families. Immediately we turned to social media to see if anyone knew what was going on. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and snapchat told us nothing. We see no answers to the many questions we had running through our heads. Then social media blew up.
There was an altercation between some shoppers supposedly and one decided to pull a weapon to fire shots. We were relieved that this was not a planned mass shooting, even though this was still horrifying and still just as scary but knowing that even though something devastating had happened it wasn’t planned as far as the media knows.
After patiently waiting for an hour, I received a call from my mom telling me that the news was reporting that the gunman was dead. I was still nervous to leave our hiding spot and wanted to make sure we could make it safely to my car, so I called 911. I received the all clear from the operator and we headed back to my car. There was no one, but cops and a handful of cars around in the parking lot.
Finally, after the long walk while constantly looking over my shoulder,I drove away as fast as legally possible. The 45-minute drive back to my house we all were trying to recount what happened. Everyone but me was on their phone looking up news stories and searching social media. As I was driving, I tried wrapping my head around what just happened. I just kept thinking about the different possibilities of what could have happened.
When I arrived back at my house, the first thing I did was hug my mom. I talked to her about the commotion I encountered and laid down. While laying in bed, I starting searching every news site and social media outlets such as Twitter. My curiosity strived to figure out more details. I was horrified by the graphic videos and photos blasted over every platform. Videos of shoppers running as shots were fired and even so far as the “gunman” laying on the mall floor bleeding out. I read news article after news article trying to find out every detail. I had never been through something so traumatic and I needed every detail noted.
My friend had lost her purse in all the commotion, so I had to go back the next day with my mom. The mall was packed like the night before had never happened. I began to recall everything I had experience less than 12 hours before. Thankfully, her purse was recovered with everything inside and we got to walk to where everything originally went down. I could feel chills running up and down my spine knowing something was wrong. I told my mom we had to leave because I couldn’t handle being there anymore.
This horrific event was all over so many news stations all over the country. To recall exactly what happened through my eyes is still bothering me and always will. You never know what’s going to happen or how you will react in any manic situation. I can still hear the screams of everyone running for their lives, as was I, and the tears I cried telling my mom I loved her. A creek of a door or a whispering voice makes something tick in my head.
This was the scariest moment of my life.