In school, I have been taught to stay silent and duck and cover in the event of a shooting. When you see tragedy on the news, it seems so distant, so far away. You see clips of people running and screaming in a massive stampede, so unrealistic that it looks like a movie. I never thought I would experience it.
New York City. The city of dreamers, doers, thinkers. Landing in JFK Airport, the captain gave us a warm welcome to the city. Central Park, the Plaza Hotel, and the tall skyscrapers made me feel like I was in another world.
On my second day in the city, my father and I had just returned to Manhattan at about 9 p.m. from a school visit to Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. We felt energized, so we decided to walk down Broadway to the heart of Times Square and then walk back. Walking down, the lights of the street made my heart glow. I felt like anyone could belong here.
We reached the epicenter of the tourist spot and decided to go into the M&M’s Store for a late night sweet. We put our candy down on the register when we began to hear popping. A swarm of people ran inside the store, and everyone started to scream. My dad and I began to run and tried to hide behind a counter with a stampede of others who were so scared they couldn’t even see straight.
I couldn’t breathe, tears blurred my eyes, and my hands shook like I had consumed too many cups of coffee. I looked to my right and saw a mother and daughter holding each other, the young girl sobbing her eyes out.
To my left, a family from China held a Mandarin to English dictionary, trying to figure out what was happening. And in front of me, a husband wearing a button down shirt and a wife wearing a hijab grabbed hands and tried to call the police.
After minutes of waiting, my dad said it was safe to leave, so we went back out to the street. NYPD cars were everywhere, but we were simply focused on trying to get back to where we were staying. In a haste, we walked 10 blocks back to our hotel where I sit here writing this now.
Fortunately, the popping noise was a motorcycle backfire that was confused by all for gunshots. Even so, I know that I will never forget the overwhelming fear that consumed my body during this moment.
Shootings are normalized in the news — we see them all the time. But to actually experience what it would have felt like was traumatizing. All of the people in that store who were crouched behind the counter with me were human beings. All human beings who have the right to be alive.
In that moment, no matter what race, religion, or background any of us had come from, we were all there together, trying to stay calm and stay alive. No human should fear being shot in an M&M’s Store or church or airport or movie theatre.
I know this message has become overstated many times, but I cannot help but to share my experience. My dad held me in my arms as people around me screamed. If there would have been a live shooter, my last moments would have been crouched on the floor, praying for my life to be saved.
No one, no matter who they are, should be allowed to experience this. Until we solve this issue, stay safe — thoughts and prayers clearly aren’t working.