Column: Living through a tragedy

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Experiencing the Jewish Community Center shooting firsthand

By Aaron Fitzgerald

“Get in the room, now!” The security guard shouted.

“What’s going on? I’m in a hurry.” I said to him, confused.

“ Don’t ask, just go!” He yelled.

It had just been an ordinary Sunday. Wake up, go to church, put off my homework and just relax. I had to go to a meeting at the Jewish Community Center for job training. I didn’t think anything about the sirens wailing as I climbed out of my car and walked in to the building, but as soon as I stepped through the double doors something felt strange – like when you know someone is playing a prank on you but you don’t know what it is. A worried security guard rushed me into a large room full of nervous-looking people. Sweaty joggers from the JCC’s gym, tweens who were auditioning for a singing competition and grade-schoolers from a play practice were all sitting on the floor, whispering to each other. I asked what was going on. No one seemed to know. I tried to open the door to leave, but I was told to stay put.

About a minute later, a man stepped in the room. He said that there had been a shooting a few minutes ago in the parking lot. We weren’t allowed to leave until the police arrived and made sure there was no longer any danger.

Every single person in the room froze. I was nervous, but I hadn’t expected anything this serious. Something like this only happens to other people. We were supposed to stay calm, but I don’t think that I’ve ever been that scared before. The shooter could still be out there. He could be coming inside. We were all in a room, trapped. I didn’t know what to do. The grade-schoolers were screaming and crying, and the parents were shell shocked. The room was in chaos.

Then, someone started playing music. Sweet, smooth chords drifted through the nervous air. All of a sudden, the crying stopped. Everyone in the room turned to see the source of the sound. One of the tweens, who had come for the singing competition, had sat down with the kids, softly strumming her guitar. Then, she began to sing.

“Twinkle twinkle little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.”

I’ve never felt so moved by music. It calmed us; it made us realize that we were alright. The whole room was mesmerized by it. In a time of fear and danger, a simple song had made us feel safe again. I’ll always be grateful to that girl. She had the guts to do what a lot of other people in the room couldn’t do – say that everything would be alright.

The shooting at the Jewish Community Center was tragic, and my heart goes out to all of those who lost a loved one. Our lives are too short – things come and go too soon. Live while you can, and don’t let fear hold you back.

Contact Aarron Fitzgerald, Circulation manager, at afitzge10@jccc.edu.

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