My Scrambled Nest

An Almost-Empty Nest Journey of "Letting Go" With Laughter and Love, By Cathy Free

It’s been a week now since I received a text close to bedtime that every parent hopes they’ll never get from their college student. “Mom,” my son wrote last Monday night, “I’m on lockdown in my dorm because somebody has been shot and the shooter is on the run. There are cop cars everywhere outside the dorm.”

Yet another shooting on another night in America by another person who shouldn’t have access to a gun. Only this time, it happened just up the hill from where my son is living at the University of Utah. The 24-year-old suspect shot an international student from China in the head during a carjacking, kidnapped his friend, then fired shots at her when she managed to flee. He wasn’t apprehended until later the next day at the downtown Salt Lake City library.

At the time of the shooting, since it wasn’t known where the gunman had fled or what his intentions were, the entire campus was put on lockdown and more than 200 police officers and several search helicopters were called out. Thankfully, my son wasn’t alone: He had three friends in his room at the time, working on calculus and chemistry assignments. They shut the blinds and initially tried to continue their studies, but as the commotion outside grew louder, they turned off the lights, sat on the floor and tuned into a police scanner via laptop. For the next four hours, my son kept me updated:

“The military has also been called out. Sirens and helicopters everywhere.”

“Now there are reports of more shots fired.”

“Looks like everybody will have to stay in my room tonight. Nobody can leave.”

At about 1 a.m., my son rounded up some blankets and he and his friends made a futile attempt to sleep. Then after 3, when it was apparent that the suspect wasn’t on campus, the lockdown was lifted and everyone returned to their own dorm rooms. After a restless night, wondering why our country continues to put up with such madness, I received another text from my son: “Mom, classes are canceled today. Are you available for breakfast?”

Sensing that my boy could use a hug, I picked him up and took him out for his favorite breakfast burrito at the Blue Plate Diner. He confessed that he’d been frightened by it all and was relieved that it was over. “You did exactly the right thing,” I told him. “Lock the doors, shut the blinds, turn off the lights, text me, then wait.”

How sad that he already knows the drill after less than one semester in college.

Although I hope that my son and his friends never have to go through this again, I am not optimistic. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, there is news of another shooting — this time at a Baptist church in Texas with 26 killed. Yet again, we will hear calls for a “moment of silence” from Congress as nothing is done.

How do we explain to our children that this is the “new normal” in America? How do we encourage them to be independent, enjoy their young lives and fly on their own when almost every day brings fear and uncertainty with news of more gun violence from homegrown terrorists? It seems that no corner of our country has been untouched. I keep waiting and hoping to hear just one word from Americans coast-to-coast.

When will we finally hear it? “Enough.”


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