Friday, Feb. 9, in Saco was a scene like so many to have unfolded in the United States on countless days, locations and schools where “this would never happen.”

Maine Lockdown Shooting

Parents wait as students are released from school, under watch by local police, outside Thornton Academy following police activity in the area on Feb. 9, in Saco, Maine. Police in a Saco asked residents to shelter in place Friday afternoon while they searched for suspects after an exchange of gunfire and vehicle crash at a busy intersection spurred a brief citywide school lockdown. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

What happened? According to news reports, two cars driving in downtown Saco, shooting at one another, spun out of control, hitting a school bus on Route 1. In video, recorded by an eyewitness, three men race out of one car and run around stopped traffic until they take off in the direction of Thornton Academy.

If that isn’t chaotic and frightening enough, schools went into shelter-in-place and then full lockdown.

I was picking up my youngest daughter at Massabesic Middle School when I received the first text about shelter-in-place at 12:20 p.m. In a frank display of living in America in 2024, it was nothing more than an inconvenience. My daughter at Thornton Academy was being released at 1:20 p.m. and we might have to wait a bit. No problem. Would be a nice time to sit and hang out with my youngest. Any dad of a pre-teen welcomes that.

When my daughter and I arrived in Saco, the police presence was beyond what we were expecting. My Thornton Academy student was texting me from inside the school with vague information about “hijacking” “shots fired” and said she was being held in place in the cafeteria.

I don’t have to tell any parent the emotions that were starting to make themselves known.

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Police stood on the Thornton campus with machine guns. Police SUVs blocked roads. Intersections were closed. Parents were starting to gather on corners, parking lots and anywhere else they could be close without police moving them on.

At 1:23 p.m., the school went into full lockdown. My daughter was herded into the kitchen of the cafeteria, away from windows and doors. She sent pictures of students standing in a well-lit kitchen. All seemed fine but I could feel tension rising in her messages.

It’s hard to get cell service in Saco; my daughter and I drove to the park and ride and got on our phones to try and figure out what was happening. No official news had been released but those Facebook moms were on their game. We learned about the accident (we’d driven by it but had no idea they were connected), the men running away and the fact that they were at large.

My daughter was still in the kitchen and things were feeling dangerous, so I drove back to Thornton Academy. Like so many parents, the idea of being close in case something awful happens offered some measure of comfort, control. I had the irrational idea I could do something. Anything.

The circle of police had widened when we arrived in the neighborhood. We were directed to Walgreens by the police where we had very little cell service for news and waited.

At 2:02 pm, another text letting us know the lockdown continued. My daughter had been moved to the theater, briefed by the school and the temperature started to lower. The story started to become clear that the men running from the car were probably just terrified young men running for their lives and had no design on the school. Is there anything more terrifying than terrified people with guns?

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By 2:45 pm, the lockdown had been modified to shelter in place. The Walgreens parking lot was filled. Worried parents standing vigil searched across the street for their kids, for good news and answers. Police were great. They helped move traffic, moved worried parents along and were stonefaced when hit with questions. The machine guns still hung around their shoulders but it was looking like that was all they’d be doing.

Thornton gradually released students. Students who drove to school were allowed to leave. A stream of wide-eyed students sped off campus in a long line. Students on foot started trickling out, special education students were escorted to parents and caregivers in the parking lot, tears were flowing and eventually, around 5:30 p.m., I was able to watch my daughter speed walk across the parking lot to me under the watchful eye of Saco Police.

I don’t need to tell any parent reading this the images Friday conjured. I texted with my ex-wife about our emotions when Sandy Hook happened. I remembered walking to pick up the same daughter from her kindergarten class in Pittsfield, MA, and back in those quaint times, I was allowed to walk to the halls of the school to her classroom and recalled the eerie silence and eager and innocent faces and how it brought me to tears as the news footage still echoed in my mind.

It was a similar feeling driving home with my now sophomore. A daughter just realizing her hard work mattered, just developing a plan for her incredibly bright future. A kid I’d lost to adolescence who’d just recently returned to the fun, quick-to-smile and joke and whip-smart kid I helped raise.

She was fine. Glad to be going home. Glad to have been able to eat donuts in the cafeteria. I even got a selfie from her and her friends they titled “lockdown buddies.” Kids are resilient, right? It’s likely there lurking, a flood of emotion waiting to be released, but she’s a school kid in America. Lockdown drills are par for the course. School shootings are par for the course.

I wish I had answers. Just the next day, someone was shot and killed in Bangor and we all have Robert Card in our not-too-distant memory. Maine is a great place to live, though. It is. I dare you to find a better place to live and raise kids.

I work remotely and talk to a lot of people all over the world about my dirt road, the lake, deer and quiet nights. However, America has arrived. America is not well. America is sick. America is angry. We desperately need to lower the temperature so that Friday afternoons like last aren’t the norm. As it stands, Childish Gambino was prophetic: “This is America.”


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