Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tragedy at Platte Canyon High School

Emily's Ride 2006. This is what our parking lot looked like.

This is looking West.
This is looking East.

I can't believe it has been three years tomorrow since our strong little community was taken hostage by an armed gunman. I say our community because it was not only those six beautiful girls, but their families, their friends, and the rest of us as well.

It is still very difficult to talk about, my hands are shaking and I have a very large lump in my throat, but to share some of the things that have come from this tragedy are very important as well. So, I will start at the beginning. I was at my mom's that day, when my husband called and said that the high school and middle school (which are one building separated by a common cafeteria called the Canyon Room, also used for meetings, it is the large glass portion you saw in the news clips) were locked down due to a bomb threat or something. My mom lives about 30 minutes from downtown Bailey, and I made it in about half that time. I was not the only one, there were MANY cars speeding on the highway that day. Luckily I was one of the first 50 or so cars into downtown Bailey, so did not have far to go to get to where they were giving parents information. It was not long before we learned that our middle school kids were safe, thank God.

I'll never forget standing there with this pit in my stomach as one emergency vehicle after another would pass by, then the bomb tanker, then an FBI truck, it just kept getting scarier. I will also never forget the fact that even our bus drivers put themselves in danger to line up on the "Bailey back road" to wait for clearance to rush in to get any and all kids that they could. The panic in the crowd of parents was physically palpable, it was almost more than one person could handle, I guess that's why we all needed to be together at that time. Many of us had been friends since those kids had been in diapers together, so we drew strength from one another.

For those of us parents that were blessed enough to have our children cleared, we were told to go to the elementary school to pick up our kids. We all raced up Crow Hill, both with dread in our hearts and lead in our feet, praying that our kids would be on that bus, and wondering whose kids weren't. A car couldn't even fit on the road, people had just stopped where they were, and just started running to try and find their kids. Thankfully for me, I put it in four, and got off the road, and just blindly ran.
I've mentioned before the blank looks on the kids faces, but there really are no words to describe the looks that those kids had. There were literally over a hundred kids on each bus, and the crowd just started screaming and cheering when we saw the buses coming, I have never been more emotional in my life, not even the day they were born. Parents were running next to the buses pounding on them, begging to make sure that their son or daughter was on there. People were yelling into their cell phones "I see him/her!" The scene was utter chaos, and to the school districts' credit, they kept pretty good control.

This is a story of tragedy and triumph. The tragedy is a story that could be told again and again, and it deserves to be. But the triumph is almost, if not more amazing. To be honest, those next few days are a little blurry, but I think it was just two days later when a bike club pulled together a ride. I decided to take the kids down to the end of the road to check it out. I've got to tell you, that was almost as emotional as the day that it was in remembrance of. To see thousands and thousands of big, bad burly bikers all dressed in pink (Emily's favorite color) roaring by on their nasty Harley's was almost more than our broken hearts could handle! The loud, proud bikes literally went on for miles, there were still bikes leaving Columbine High School, by the time the first ones were arriving at our high school over an hour later, it was simply awe inspiring. As the tears poured down my cheeks (as they are right now) I just kept hugging my kids and telling them how much people loved and supported them. It was a sight we will all never forget. Emily's Mom, Ellen Keyes, was on the lead bike driven by our wonderful Sheriff, Fred Wegener, followed by all of our local Park County bikers, my emotional husband being one of them.
It was a very proud time for all of us, the fourth annual Emily Ride is today and this year a 5k run will be added. It was created in conjunction with the I Luv U Guys Foundation (based on Emily's last text message) that is working on school safety and provides some local scholarships. Yesterday was kindness day at the high school; the kids prepared for the ride, by folding the handkerchiefs for the bikers, or some worked on a house for Habitat for Humanity. Yes, this tragedy changed our lives forever, but we are blessed to say, that we live in a community that took the best from the worst and we are looking forward from here. WE love you guys, Bailey!


Daisy said...

Many hugs to you - it's a superficial way to offer support, but it's all I have right now. I keep training and training in crisis intervention and hoping I never have to use it. Blessings on all of you who made it through this awful day.

Tiffany said...

I linked to this article on my blog. Thanks for sharing this, Judy. It is important for all of us to remember that many many people were affected deeply by the events on that day, not just the kids in the immediate vicinity. Someday I'll get around to telling a teacher's story. Your blog inspires me a little, but I'm still just not there yet. )-:


Ter said...

hi i came here via Tiffany's blog. I'm sorry for the horrible ordeal you and your community went through. I am glad your community is pulling together after tragedy and proving that you are stronger than any madman.

Pam said...

I too like Tiffany was at the school that day. I work with the Special Need children. All I can say is that I was terrified. I knew I had to hold it together because of the kids. I can remember every minute of that day. I can remember running across the Middle School parking lot and coming to a stop at the end of it and saying "Now where do we go"? We were pushing kids in wheel chairs. The art teacher and the copy repair man was there and helped us carry the chairs across the sand pit and down in to a gully. The kids were so good. They knew there was something going on but that we would take care of them. I could go on and on but I won't. Our community is doing better but I know none of us will ever forget. My prayers go out to all.

Tiffany said...

Royal Ranch said...

I am so proud of you for finally being able to write about this, and write you did... what a great post. Thank you.

Tiffany said...

Thank you, my friend. You helped me get to this point...