Two sharp pops interrupted the buzz of young voices. And for a moment an awful stillness hung over the classroom.
It was my fourth day on the job as a substitute teacher. I had seven tours of duty in the Marines between Iraq and Afghanistan and I recognized the sound before it even registered in the children’s minds.
Seconds passed. Two more bursts of semi-automatic gunfire, this time louder.
Looking at the youngsters, some whose name I had yet to memorize, I knew their terror. I was also terrified, because a lock-blade knife was all I had and not the M-4 or 1911 I’d been packing two-months before.
Seconds passed. Another pop, pop…louder…closer.
“Okay, let’s go into lock-down mode like you’ve practiced. I’ll close the blinds as you push your desks in front of the door. Hurry!”
Seconds passed. Two more pops…even closer and louder.
“Now, tip those two tables over on their sides and lay down behind them.”
Seconds passed. More gunfire, this time accompanied by the jangle of spent casings.
Sitting in the corner, I wedged myself between the wall, under the flag, and against the door. Looking down, I thought, “What a day to wear dress shoes,” as I longed for something with more grip.
Seconds passed. One more pop.
Planning, it was the core of my being the last eight-years and I already had an ‘actionable’ one working. The shooter would either have to blast his way through the door or smash open the small window above and to the left of the door handle.
Suddenly the glass shattered and an arm in black with a black-gloved hand, the pointer finger’s tip removed, reached in. As the shooter touched the handle, I pounced; combat mode, where nothing but survival matters.
Grabbing the gloved hand, I twisted it forward, rotating the arm through the small window. I cranked until the shoulder joint gave, I jerked up and in, twisting even more; three, four, five times.
Screaming, all the screaming. I couldn’t tell if it was the children, the shooter or me.
As I felt the arm go limp, I pulled out my flip-blade knife, the one I carried the last two-tours in the Helmand Provence, and flicked it open. I proceeded to hack at the attackers arm and shoulder.
Blood gushed from the limb, through the broken window, and flowed down the wooden door. I could feel my hand slip from time to time, sliding down the blade, as the knife struck bone.
Reaching through the window, I thrust my blade into the shooters’ back and neck repeatedly. I stopped at the sound of heavy industrial plastic rattling across the linoleum floor.
The arm, body still attached, remained wedged, unmoving in the window’s frame; threat resolved. Minutes later, police rushed through the classroom door, hustling us, hands in the air, out the front of the school, me to an ambulance.
At the hospital, a surgeon worked on my hand, calling me a hero. “I’m no hero,” I argued.
For a week, I couldn’t get away from the label. The entire world was there the day I was awarded a plaque and a medal for having taken down an armed shooter ‘with nothing more than a pocket knife,’ as one news reporter put it.
Hero, that’s what they called me – until the day I was quietly summoned to the district office and unceremoniously fired for violating policy. You see, in a ‘gun-free zone,’ not even a folding knife’s permissible.
“Here’s your coffee, ma’am,” he said, handing me the cup. Then he chuckled, “I realized afterwards I should’ve used the scissors from the desk.”