They have turned off the lights.
All the doors are locked, the halls are empty, everyone is speaking lower than usual.
This is a lockdown.
It was strange to walk into the newsroom—a place that for most involved has become a second home, something of a safe-haven when home was too far and we needed a nap, we were hungry or just needed someone to talk to—and see it so on edge.
This wasn’t what any of us had planned for the evening.
I’m not one to normally believe in nonsensical superstitions, but if ever I was tempted to believe in them, it was on Wednesday.
“12/12/12, something’s going to happen,” a friend of mine warned in the morning as I rolled my eyes. What a coincidence, I thought as updates came in on the lockdown, that this should happen today.
I realized later, however, that the reason that night turned out well in the end was due to the hard work and diligence of every party involved.
And no, that was not just pure coincidence.
Like everyone else, I had an enormous laundry list of to-dos planned for that night: projects, papers, you name it.
But I couldn’t say no when a friend of mine, Adrian, suggested we consider going to cover a story we saw brewing up at around 4 p.m., right when we were starting our work.
Most of the reporters in our staff had already scurried downstairs when word had gotten around that there was an accident at the Marriott hotel across the street and that police were involved.
As journalists, we live for this kind of stuff.
Hard-hitting stories with details to be collected from witnesses, this is the kind of thing we hope and pray to happen anywhere near our campus, but is usually a futile aspiration given the typical dreariness of Fullerton.
“It will be just for a bit,” we said. “We’ll be right back.”
We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.
We couldn’t fathom at that time that the reason why this story would become so incredibly interesting would be because our school, our home, had become a place of danger.
Our friends, professors and mentors were suddenly not safe.
It was when we were collecting interviews that we began to realize the intensity of the situation.
Someone was spotted with a gun. Students had been asked to evacuate.
As journalists, we felt an intense responsibility at that time to get all the details we could, to keep the campus updated.
This is how I found myself with a group of five close friends from the newspaper standing in front of McCarthy Hall, a slight drizzle of rain falling, contemplating whether or not to listen to the commands from the school speakers to evacuate or to go inside and try to find a better view.
We opted with McCarthy.
Having ran to the scene with the expectation to be back in the newsroom in no more than 30 minutes, we found ourselves in the midst of a national story, incredibly underprepared and trapped in Dan Black Hall.
If it hadn’t been for a girl, a geology major, who not only offered to lend us a computer but allowed us into the geology lab where a group was working, I am certain the night would have gone much worse.
The students inside offered us a warm, safe place to work with a decent view of the campus from where we were, and food and tips on what was going on on campus that they were getting from their friends.
We were able to edit stories, communicate with the rest of our news crew and even juice up our phones so we could keep working.
At around 8 p.m., we got word from one of our photographers, William, that he was coming to the room that we were in and that we were going to get out of where we were and back into the newsroom.
Our staff needed help.
We gathered our things, thanked our new friends and quietly ran down the stairs of Dan Black and onto the street where it was dark and raining.
It was a bit scary, the notion of getting caught. But what was the worst that could have happened?
We ran side-by-side, keeping an eye out for each other as we crossed the street in the darkness of the night, hoping no police would catch a glimpse of us as we hopped over walls, walked past dark parking lots and finally made it back to College Park.
A friend of ours opened the door in the basement stairs and we ran back home.
In the end, everything turned out alright. Thankfully, no one was hurt on campus.
There were students that said that the situation was overdramatized, that the SWAT squads that were brought on campus were not necessary, that there was never any real danger.
I’m glad at least that students on campus felt safe, but I know that if it hadn’t been for the hard work of all the police, the professors and the students that were helping each other out, things could have turned out much differently.