It’s not a real problem, until it is OUR problem.
We have said that many times since we moved into the O4W of Atlanta, but last night we experienced a more intense problem in this city that we love.
Parking was limited, so Dhati dropped the seven of us off near the stadium while he went to park. Decked out in our Hope-Hill and Inman t-shirts, we were joining hundreds of others to watch the Grady-Carver High School football game at Grady Stadium. Aside from a fight that broke out at Starbucks as we were grabbing some dinner, it was a peaceful and quiet evening—nice weather and an amazing skyline to take in.
The game began and the kids were enjoying the atmosphere. We sat on the home side and to the left of us we could see Monroe St. and the Starbucks where we had just been. Trinity and Jade walked around and mingled with other middle schoolers. Briaiah, DJ, and Brayden had moved closer to watch the game—Dhati and I sat in the middle of the stadium near a brick wall with the Lucia’s family (Trinity’s best friend). Gazing out, I saw Atlanta’s skyline and said aloud, “I love this city, what a great view.” Half time came and Dhati went to talk to a friend we saw. The Looney’s, friends from school and church, came over to say hello and I spoke to them for a minute. They walked away. Then a thought crossed my mind. “What if there was a shooting here tonight? Would I be able to protect all of my kids? Would we be safe?” Looking around I sought out the kids and Dhati and realized we were all spread out. I thought to tell Dhati that we should leave and then I dismissed the thought as an irrational fear. Trinity and Nathaniel had come to sit near me. Then Dhati returned.
The third quarter began. Nathaniel was getting tired and laid at my feet on Trinity’s jacket. Dhati and Trinity were still near me as well— I was fussing at Trinity for how dirty her jacket was and having a really meaningless conversation. Then, pop pop pop pop… it continued. Fireworks? Why would there be fireworks in the 3rd quarter… and we’re losing… my thoughts were jumbled, but then it all became clear. I looked to the left and saw several people running, chasing each other and shooting at each other. Immediately it clicked. The stadium erupted, people fell to the ground, others stood and ran. Screaming and chaos. I yelled at Trinity and Nathaniel to lie down and stay there. At some point, I too had laid down unknowingly; I looked up and saw Jade’s face; she was yelling, “Do I come to you or stay?” I told her to stay and lay down. I stood knowing that I only had three kids accounted for. Dhati grabbed Jade and had her, Trinity and Nathaniel up against the concrete wall on the ground.
“Please don’t let me get shot. Please don’t let me get shot.” Those were the thoughts racing through my head. As I ran past Jade, I asked her where the others were but she was unsure. I kept looking. Under a chair with arms wrapped around each other's heads I saw DJ and Briaiah. The look of terror and panic stared back at me. “Stay there!” Where’s Brayden?!” They didn’t know, they said he ran.
“Brayden!!” I could barely hear myself scream his name because so many were screaming. “Brayden!” I encountered face after face of kids, terrified, but none were mine. “Brayden!!” I pushed through the crowd huddled in the tunnel and screamed his name one more time. And the most relieving, beautiful image appeared before me— the face of a relieved sweet little boy. Oh yes!! A lady said, “I grabbed him and made him lay down because he took off running.” I thanked her and hoisted him over the wall and back into the tunnel. As I sat him down and told him we were okay, another wave of panic broke out. Screaming and running and people pressing back into the stadium through the tunnel.
I thought, “Oh Lord, the gunmen are in here. It’s not just out there anymore. I felt fairly calm until that point. Fear took over, I scooped Brayden up and ran back toward the wall and the rest of our family. Dhati had gathered all of the others in the same spot— he heard the second rush of panic as well and had the kids all on their feet. Without speaking, we all ran down toward the field and jumped over the wall onto the field— Brayden practically dove over the ledge and once all were over, we squatted down and looked around.
Football players were laying on the field, people still running around frantically, bodies were jumping over our heads as they ran across the field to the other side. DJ began praying aloud, “God be with us, protect us. Thank you for finding Brayden, protect us…” Jade’s crying, Briaiah’s crying, Brayden’s bawling, Nathaniel is rubbing Briaiah’s back, Trinity is gripping Dhati’s hand, and DJ is praying.
We were safe at this point. Police helicopters overhead, police cars all along the perimeter of the stadium, and security inside the stadium began directing people. We were ushered through Grady High School to the street where we had parked.
The walk to the car was one of the longest walks of my life, I felt vulnerable and all of us were on high alert. Police cars were still speeding by looking for the shooters. We made it to our car and then home safely. Once home, we learned that a woman was shot in the head and ankle, and a kid was shot in the back. The three families we knew at the game were all safe, although they each had their own scares.
As we set in the girls’ room in the safety of our home, we prayed. We thanked God for protecting us, thanked God for protecting our friends. We asked God to be with the two shot, heal them. Trinity prayed for the shooters, prayed for them to come to know the Lord, we thanked God for bringing us to this neighborhood and asked Him to remind us of our reason for being here. This was a real problem before we lived here but now, this is OUR problem. This is our city, our neighbors, these are our friends, so these are our problems. For many, last night was the first they have experienced something like that. However, for many, last night was an ongoing picture of what has become a normal problem. Please continue to be in prayer for our neighborhood, for our city, for this city we love .