The morning of January 13, 2018, my daughter was to sing the National Anthem with her Glee Club for the Gymnastics event at her school. Before I left that morning, I let my husband know we were leaving and wouldn’t be gone long. I popped my head in the door to see if my son was awake, he was not so I didn’t bother waking him. I was only going to be gone for an hour at the most.
Something already felt amiss about the day. You know how they talk about “Chain of Events”? It was that kind of feeling…like nothing is really meshing together. I considered leaving the school simply because there was already so much confusion with missed emails whether the girls were going to sing or not. But I decided to wait it out then her crew showed up so we made our way into the gym. My daughter then left with her Glee Club to get set up.
The gym was starting to fill up with the buzz of the crowd, they were to start in just a few short minutes. Suddenly, a blaring warning from all of our cell phones began to echo throughout the entire gym, followed by the blaring school siren. The room became eerily quiet as we all looked at each other and our phones in shock and confusion. My daughter had a look of panic as she was standing there with her group, I quickly grabbed her to be with me. She was worried it was a tsunami warning (same blaring alert) and that her brother was at home knowing that we are in a flood zone.
Everyone paced around in confusion. Were we really seeing this? This has to be a sick joke.
“BALISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”
Shell shock followed by fear. I immediately texted my husband. I chose not to call because I didn’t want to further concern my daughter. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely hold the phone.
Me: We are at the gym this is not a drill what is going on
Me: Warning system they are locking us in
This is not a drill
Husband: I don’t know baby.
Me: I love you, tell G I love him
Husband: Do I need to come up there?
Me: U won’t get thru, U won’t make it
Husband: What are they telling you?
Me: Take shelter immediately
Husband: From what?
Husband: No way
Me: Not a drill
Husband: No sirens, no texts. Love you
If you followed the story you know that the sirens in town did not go off. So my husband had no idea what was going on. He is one of the few who didn’t receive the initial cell phone notification. I assumed he was hearing what we were.
Many of the kids began to cry as well as some adults but as we were walking around trying to make sense of what was happening it became very clear, very fast. There was no way to shield our children from the truth of the situation that we were in. We did the best we could as parents to comfort them. The man with the megaphone then repeated. “This is not a drill, take cover immediately!”
I was at war in my own mind about what to do. Do I take a chance and try to make it home with my daughter to be with my son and husband? Could I make it? Would there be traffic? Would we make it regardless of where we were at? Megaphone ringing in my ears telling us we had “13 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes we have to close the doors.” You can wonder what you would do until the day you die in a situation like this but until you are faced with it, you don’t know. All I could think was that I didn’t even say goodbye this morning. It was this kickboxing battle going on inside my head. Why didn’t you just wake him up!!! The thought that I would never hold my son again was tearing me apart inside. Given the timeline there was no way we could make it to them in time so I decided to heed the warning and take cover immediately.
My daughter clung to me so tight, I could barely move as we made our way into the locker room. As a mom I just kept saying. “It’s fine, everything is going to be alright, try to stay calm.” Knowing full well, I myself didn’t know if everything was going to be okay. Once we were all in the locker room reality really struck. Young girls on the phones with their parents, saying their last goodbyes-my daughter over hears them and lets out a scream of terror I’ll never forget. Everyone calling loved ones to say their last goodbyes. I tried so hard to hold it together. I wanted to call my husband, son, mom and my brother and his family but I knew that I would lose any composure I had left if I did so. In that moment I had a slight sense of calm and I knew that everyone in my life that I love, knows that I love them. Distinctly remembering my last conversations with them that ended happy. Would it help to leave them with memories of my last moments in complete terror. Most importantly, I still had to hold it together for my daughter who was absolutely terrified- it was not the time to fall apart.
In those last few moments. She asked me if we were going to burn to death, I didn’t answer her, I just held her so tight as if my body shielding her would make a difference. All I could think at this point was- it should be quick and its going to happen soon. Strangers began embracing, strangers. My daughter and I were in a circle of people we’d never met as we all held each other and cried.
Then finally, Tulsi Gabbard was our first clue that it was a false alarm it would be several minutes later when we received the official message. We all let out the biggest sigh of relief and left that room very dazed and changed forever by what had just happened. I’m pinching myself- don’t lose it yet. We walk outside to see that my husband and son did make it to the school to be with us. As soon as I saw them, I fell apart completely. The girls with their little puffy faces were able to sing the National Anthem. It was surreal. We left in our separate cars to go home. I called my mom and couldn’t stop crying. Thinking back I can’t even remember driving home. My hands didn’t stop shaking until 1pm that same day, hours later.
In the end my daughter commented that I was one of the calmest parents in the room. Which was as far from reality as you could possibly get. The fear and terror was real and I felt every ounce of it. It’s easy to be an outsider looking in and think it was just a false alarm but this has changed my family and I know many here on the islands. The words “This is not a drill” will ring in my ears for days if not weeks to come. The sound of sirens fills me with anxiety like I’ve never felt before. Life is different now.
It was a false alarm, we have a new normal, a new lease on life, a new appreciation for how precious life is. We are changed forever.