I’m at home, with my wife and her family, when she asks if I know there was a shooting at Cascade Mall. I give her a blank stare. I'm a deer in the headlights.
My wife’s family lives in Burlington. They’re helping fold clothes for our 33-week unborn son. We’re preparing for his life, while a man is flown to Harborview Medical Center, struggling to keep his life. Four women have lost their lives. None of them survive the night. Others may be injured. We don’t have all the facts.
When I transitioned out of the Army, we lived with my wife’s family for a few months. We used to walk to the mall because we were both looking for jobs, and we didn’t want to waste our money on gas. We bought our cellphones at the T-Mobile store. We walked through Macy’s looking at clothes, amused by some of the fashions. We’ve laughed as people ride around on miniature cars through the mall. We’ve enjoyed movies at the theater with friends and family.
I walk into our living room. Our niece is watching “The Land Before Time” with her father. Little foot loses his mother tragically, and struggles to find his way in the world. They try to figure out how to stop Shark Tooth.
Police from around the state are searching for the man who took these lives. They’re clearing people out of the mall, making sure they’re safe and uninjured. It takes them hours to clear the entire mall.
The movie ends, but the story is just beginning.
We live thirty minutes away, and my wife’s family departs for their home in Burlington. We tell them to stay safe. They drive to their home, sending my wife cellphone footage of the police cruisers, lights flashing, still deep in the search for the shooter. I can hear the whir of a helicopter, as my sister-in-law explains to our niece what the police are doing.
In Iraq, when we had incoming mortars, for the first few weeks we ran from our metal Combat Housing Units (CHUs) to the concrete barriers around the perimeter, prepared for anything, ready to fight if necessary. After the first few weeks, we just rolled out of bed, onto the floor. Eventually, the mortars didn’t bother us. Even when soldiers were killed by mortars across the street from our housing unit, and my ears rang from the explosion, I had lost the sense of fear. The military police were handling everything.
One day, I stood on top of Saddam’s palace, surveying the wreckage of his country, trying to make sense of all the war, the destruction, the lives lost senselessly over there. Tonight, I think about the lives lost senselessly here at home. We’re not at war here, but I’m frightened more by this than I am by war. War happens when people unite behind flags in order to kill one another with no good reason. War can be avoided if people speak out against it. War can be prepared for.
Tragedies like this shooting happen for no reason at all, and they strike with no warning. Rumors spread surrounding these events. Was he a terrorist? Was he a spurned lover? Was he a gangster? People theorize online until their joints are cracking, and still there are no answers.
I think about Iraq. I messaged my family, letting them know I was safe. I wasn’t safe. I was tired of the violence. I just wanted to go home.
I think about Burlington. I message my family, letting them know I am safe. Am I safe? I’m tired of the violence. This is my home.
They captured the shooter in Oak Harbor as I was writing this. This is the city I live in, thirty minutes from Burlington.