It was another Sunday evening somewhere in the world. Another day of my life. The life that I have started to value more from this day on.
I didn’t really care what day was that. The days of the week weren’t that important as I don’t follow a weekly routine. But for many of us, Sunday means a day off, family time, relax.
I probably wouldn’t care much about the city I was in either if not the fact that I used to call Houston “home”. Although it looks like it isn’t essential for the story, I would say that is quite important. After all, it hurts more when the harm arises in a safe place.
You know, when something happens to us we tend to say that we weren’t supposed to even be there. That the plans didn’t work out, a coincidence happened, so we’re here instead of there.
So I supposed to go for a one-day trip to Austin, but I didn’t. Without many options to occupy myself, I took a shuttle bus from the hotel to Memorial City Mall. I had no intention to shop whatsoever, but at least I got the opportunity to change the surroundings. I got off the bus, said goodbye to workmates I came to the mall with and went to a nearby park to read a book. I returned to the mall around 3 pm and was about to meet my colleagues when everything had begun.
I strolled through the mall listening to a podcast. I could hear screams from afar, but didn’t really care about them. The crowd is noisy.
I saw kids running, many, many kids. I thought it was a part of a game for children organized by the management of the mall. It made sense since it was Sunday.
All of a sudden people dispersed, and nobody was walking the direction I was heading over. As a matter of fact, no one was walking anymore. One after another, people turned and ran. Adults joined kids — everyone in their speed but as fast as possible. Panic conquered shoppers.
It happened in a blink of an eye, too quickly for my brain to recognize the threat. All I knew was that something was wrong, so I slowed down but didn’t stop completely. Someone’s strong arms grabbed me and dragged into an outlet.
“What’s going on?!” I asked nervously removing earbuds from my ears. The scream increased gaining power with every person who didn’t hesitate to warn others.
“I don’t know, but we have to run away” a woman, who saved me from the running crowd and potential danger people tried to escape from, looked around quickly moving her head from left to right. The pupils dilated, eyelids raised… Her voice, probably higher than usually, trampled when she was saying that. Drops of sweat appeared on the forehead. Her knees were bent, and arms widely spread. She was ready to fight for her life. A shiver ran down my spine and goosebumps appeared on my arms and legs. Although my mind still didn’t fully comprehend it, the fear has spread slowly taking possession of instinctive reactions in my body.
“Get down. Shooter!” A strong male voice sounded above indistinct scream. The lady got down immediately. I helped her to stand up and we followed instruction of the staff, who assertively directed everybody to the evacuation exit located at the back of the outlet.
“Go out, people! Get out!” A sales assistant commanded.
“The exit is blocked!” Someone in the front shouted back.
“No, it’s not! Press the bar! Push the door!” Another well-trained sales assistant instructed. The door opened, and we slowly started getting out. One after another, helping out each other.
This stage of – what later had been called – mass panic, didn’t escalate to the maximum. Not yet. People cooperated. One after another, respectively got outside.
But with every second, the fear was taking over humans behavior. Panic was rising, and many shoppers became selfish, violently making their way as far away from the threat as possible. At all costs. The fight-or-fight response took over.
People wandered off – some ran away, some stayed in the area keeping the safe distance. The mall neighborhood reminded me of a “The Walking Dead” movie plan where the recent shoppers, with their pale faces, confused glances, aimless stroll, were playing zombies.
My body was shaking, tears ran down my cheeks, my head was empty until I had realized that my colleagues were inside. Another moment of fear, however, different because it wasn’t my life that was endangered anymore. I was worried, but couldn’t do much. Although I should feel relieved, I was anxious.
This described event, which luckily turned out to be just a result of a silly prank causing panic – not a real shooting attack, shows how scared we are as
Maybe it’s time to pause for a second and think if it’s the world we want? Maybe there’s still a way out of this madness?