At first nothing happened. No one really knew what to make of this guy. He said it again and explained a little more, "You'd better lock the doors! A man just shot the mayor and a bunch of other people in a city council meeting across the street." Now it started to sink in. Everyone in Kaldi's Coffee Shop scurried to the back as a barista locked the doors. The view out the large front windows was an eery quiet, but picturesque view of Kirkwood City Hall.
Some people ran out the back door and left, but most people huddled together in the back corner, each talking on a cell phone held in trembling hands. Books, computers, coats and purses were all left sitting on the front tables as we watched the first flashing red and blue lights come on the scene.
By this time a few other people had straggled in, quivering and telling of a man named "Cookie" who walked in to the council meeting and said he wanted justice before opening fire. No one knew what happened after that because the people who were in the City Hall meeting hit the ground and scrambled out to save their lives. But someone remembered seeing a police officer, the mayor and several others get shot. A woman in a red sweater said she was sitting right next to one of the victims in the meeting.
Feeling a little braver with the minutes that had passed, myself and a few others ventured toward the front windows. Police cars were everywhere. Police officers were everywhere--many of them with large rifles, laying prone and trained on the building. The first ambulance arrived but parked a short ways down the block; no one got out.
Inside the coffee shop, several people with computers started checking various news websites for more information. Only campaign headlines and other media knick-knack. A man in a bullet-proof vest approached the door and I let him in. "Keep the door locked, stay inside and don't let anyone in," he commanded. We all scurried into the back corner again.
More cell phone calls. More web scouring. More nervous waiting. Police now had yellow tape around City Hall. They seemed a bit more relaxed. The rifles were casually pointed in the air or dangling at their sides now. A barista turned on a television hanging in the corner. After a few minutes of reality TV, two news anchors interrupted the regularly scheduled broadcast to inform us of a developing story out the front door.
Information was scarce and generic. We waited inside with doors locked and watched as local news updated their websites with increasing information. Meanwhile, someone is telling of how someone told them that someone heard the gunman was still loose. Another heard he was dead. Another heard the mayor was dead. Another heard two police officers were dead. Someone mentioned something about Imo's Pizza and a collapsed man with a bullet wound. The voice of the barista came over the speakers and said that no one was allowed to leave.
As reporters were seen strolling and ambulances leaving, we all assumed the drama might be coming to an end. The two news anchors now had a bit more information, as did their respective websites: the gunman was dead. Just then the barista spoke again to the room. "We have just received word from the police that you all may now leave. You are welcome to stay until you feel safe, but if you do leave, please do not go out alone. Go in pairs and please be careful.
Some people started gathering their things, others traded rumors. The regularly scheduled broadcast remained obscured by the increasing faces of on-site reporters repeating all the same information. I looked out the front windows and saw them standing in front of cameras and holding microphones.
As I left, the scene in the plaza was surreal. I've never seen so many police cars. I've never seen so many reporters. I've never seen so many news vans, their network logo emblazoned on the side and little transmitting dish atop the 50-foot mast. Photographers with backpacks, long hair and long lenses stopped every three steps for another shot. More reporters stood in front of powerless cameras as technicians rushed to get everything plugged in. Everyone was being interviewed. Everyone was interviewing.
The tragedy that gave way to terror now gave way to a media torrent. Most of us who spent that last two hours locked behind glass doors for safety just wanted to go home. Some opinionated residents had come out on the street to voice their perspective on local politics and this or that public official who caused this tragedy. The voice of a nearby boisterous local grinding his axe is grating and hollow.
Driving home--and glad to do it--I have to wonder what drives a man to kill like this. Why so angry and why so violent? Why in this community again? And is there even anything anyone could have done?