This weekend, I had the privilege of meeting with someone who had survived the attacks at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013. The attacker, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, entered the facility in the morning and began randomly shooting at people with the intent to kill as many as possible. He was eventually killed himself, but the harm was already done. On that terrible day 12 innocent people lost their lives to the hands of a sick, disturbed shooter. 12 people. Contractors, government employees, patriots doing their part to support the mission of the United States Navy. Just moments before the attack these were people with mortgage payments, plans to watch football that weekend, scheduling conflicts at work…. Within minutes, they were suddenly gone forever.
The first-hand account that I heard was nothing short of inspiring. What truly moved me was the sincerity of the story and the humility of the person recounting the events. Even after two and half years, the memories were still fresh for her and the emotion was still very real. However, it was not the kind of story that the mainstream media looks for to increase their ratings. It was something far more moving, far more human and genuine than any camera can capture or news reporter can evoke. It was anxiety; it was stress. It was confusion and chaos. Most important, it was reflection. For four hours she and her co-workers remained locked in their offices as the sounds of fire alarms and faint “pops” echoed through the outside hallway. It gave them time to remember the important things. They reached out to their families, they told their children they loved them and that everything would be fine. They comforted each other through the horror, and even managed to find a moment to share a brief smile and a light laugh. They spoke with the metropolitan police department and gave them any information they could provide to help. They looked out the windows at the people gathered around the facility, anxiously looking on. Those inside looking to the outside for help, those on the outside looking in helplessly. And while they waited, military and law enforcement did what they do—they ran into there that was an unknown, only knowing that death was happening. But do we really expect anything less from such people?
And then it was over. The lockdown ended and they went home. When they sat in their office for four long hours, they prayed to see their families, to see them one more time and hug them close. By God’s Grace their prayers were answered. For my storyteller, she went home and was met at her door by family and friends, a reunion of tears and comfort. The first day of many needed to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
This weekend I had the unique privilege of her sharing that experience with me. Again, fire alarms and four hours in lockdown don’t make for a Hollywood Blockbuster or the top story on the evening news. But I believe that the best of who we are rises to the moment, and often times that moment is one of tragedy. As such, the story needs to be told. If others won’t share the story, then I will.
Jason Wells is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, an educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes. He is a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, and holds a Masters of Science with highest honors in Strategic Security and Protection Management. Mr. Wells is currently pursuing his doctorate in Strategic Security with a focus on proactive interventions to stop threat-related behavior. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.