Friday, January 8, 2016

Boyhood and Bomb Threats

Back in the day, the biggest thing I had to fear at school was pop quizzes and peer pressure. Yesterday we got a cryptic series of computer generated robo calls on our home and cell phones from the Chicago high school where my son is a freshman. The recording said "Thank you for helping our evacuation run smoothly. More details to follow." Of course I instantly started Googling Lane Tech evacuation, to no avail. Then I turned to Twitter and Facebook which had a good hour lead on traditional news outlets, and found out a bit from kids who were on the scene.

It turns out the school received a bomb threat! Thankfully it was around 4:30 so most of the 4,000+ students were gone. To their credit, the school took the threat quite seriously, pulled the alarms and had the place evacuated in 2 minutes. Shortly after the robo calls, my 14 year old son started getting texts from friends who were there. One was in the bathroom when the alarms went off. Another was at basketball practice. Many of the team kids had to hustle out into the brutal cold in basketball shorts, without coats or even wallets, cell phones or keys that were in their lockers. 

As the alarms blared and the bomb squad, dogs, cops and fire departments all descended on the massive, castle like school that takes up a whole city block, it was apparent nobody was getting back in for belongings any time soon. Teachers made the rounds making sure everyone got calls out for rides home or money for busses. We're two miles west of the school and for a good hour we heard multiple sirens wailing and rushing by. Meanwhile we got a series of updates from the school, all basically stating that more info was to come, without telling us much of anything. Finally, around 9:20, the building had been thoroughly searched and was cleared for classes to resume today. 

I spent hours last night combing social media and news for details. The prison time and penalties are so high for a bomb threat, I find it hard to believe a kid pulling a prank would risk it these days. But if the cops had any leads they were keeping it pretty quiet. I'm angry that someone would threaten my child and make kids fear for their lives and question the safety of their school. I'm furious someone would steal our teens' illusion of safety and replace it with threats of bodily harm. But with disaster drills, bomb threats, and mass shootings on campuses from elementary schools through colleges, an all too frequent reality, who am I kidding. They've already been feeling some niggling level of unsafe for years, or they're in denial. 

Comments on Facebook and Twitter ranged from confusion and dismay to dark humor. Many kids expressed fear for their lives and an impromptu Facebook "event" was established for those vowing to skip school on Friday to join. Some kids quipped "Blow the sucker up. I hate that school" or teased that it was all a scam to get the kids to wear their IDs. 

A bunch of people chimed in with disgust for the state of the world today, but as I searched for info on the unfolding events under the key words "Lane Tech bomb threat" I learned, to my surprise, that Lane allegedly has had a long and infamous history of bomb threats dating back at least to the 1950's and again in the mid 80's, if not more. Hopefully this one will be an empty threat as well. Aside from the huge student population, the building has priceless, historic WPA era paintings lining the halls and gorgeous architecture dating back to 1908.

I'll bet the gut reactions were similar each time, but in 2016 parents took to the internet to express fear and disbelief. Students' first hand evacuation stories began to surface. Loads of pleas for prayers popped up and urgent begging to a higher power for protection. Parents waffled in concern over whether to risk sending their kids to school in the morning or give things a few days to simmer down. I left that call up to my son who opted to go today. 

His call made me proud that he didn't use this as an easy excuse for a 3 day weekend, or spiral into a neurotic, fear filled frenzy. Simultaneously, I almost wished he was more fearful, so I'd have an excuse to keep him close, and safe. What if the call last night was a warning of things to come, so kids would stay home. All the what ifs weighed me down. Was this really a false alarm? Is it over and all clear or is death and destruction looming? 

Lane is one of the top schools in the city, full of Chicago's best and brightest. My son has 2 AP classes and a course load of junior level subjects, so every day counts and it's tough to catch up if you get behind. While we waited to hear if they'd be cancelling classes, and I scanned the internet trying to get a grip on the situation, my son kept doggedly doing his homework. 

Today, as I dropped my son at school at 7am. I said "I love you. Have a good day." like I always do. But as the flashing blue lights of 2 police cruisers played across his face, even I heard a hint of fear in my voice. I told him how brave I thought he was, and how important it is not to let terror win. Then I watched as my son, with his heavy backpack and familiar hoodie on, disappeared into the building, with lights blazing in every room, and fervently hoped he'd be OK. 

There is no ultimate safety, no airtight guarantee. Things happen in big cities, small towns and suburbs. Mass tragedies and mundane mishaps, lethal accidents and unexpected illnesses happen. Either we hide away and let the fear consume us or we go out and live our lives to the fullest. 

I keep telling myself I do trust in the bomb dogs, cops and firemen to keep the kids and teacher's out of harm's way, and I choose not to live life from a place of fear. So today I sit home and hope no sirens break the silence. I hope for no calls. And I wait.

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