Sunday, June 3, 2012

Eaton Centre Shooting - A Reflection

This entry might actually reflect with this blog was originally created for, detailing notable personal experiences.

My friend Var and I were at the Eaton Centre waiting for our friend Keshan so we can go grab dinner that night. The plan was to meet at the Apple store for 6:30pm.

I had a McDonalds coupon in my wallet for the longest time and, since we both wanted a snack before dinner, decided this was the best time to use it. For some reason the usual McDonalds spot on Queen street wasn't there, so we made our way down to the Urban Eatery.

The coupon I had was $2 off a kids' meal, and since all I wanted was a small snack anyway I had no shame in making this request. It was amusing joking with the cashier that it was "for my boy..not for me..don't judge!" and getting excited about my toy (randon fact: I have a box of un-opened McDonald's toys I collected starting from when I was 10 years old. Yeah...).

Closer to 6pm Var and I decided to leave the Food Court and head up to HMV. We were still in that store when we realized the craziness that was occurring.

I heard shouting coming from outside and paid no real attention. I saw a small crowd of people yelling and security guards running. At that moment I thought they were responding to someone causing a public disturbance, nothing serious. I continued perusing the movie isle and walked over to the television section.

At this moment a small group of shoppers were huddled at the front of the store. As one of the store managers was closing the store, I asked the cashier if she knew what was going on.

"I heard that there was a shooting in the mall," she says with a questioning look on her face. "I'm not too sure, but we're closing the store in case of anything."

I find Var at the back and give him a heads up. He asks another employee what's happening, learning that it originated at the Food Court we were just at. I walk near the group at the front of the store, noticing that other shops around the HMV were also closing up.

What was going through my mind at this point: There was a shooting. The security guards I saw running had already apprehended the guy and waiting for the police to arrive. The stores are doing a procedural lockdown. 

Well, since people were getting out and, despite the cashier's warning to go away from the Food Court, we were in search of Keshan. At this point no one confirmed to us how grave the situation was.

We are making our way through the mall and, in just a few short steps, Var and I heard screaming; as if out of nowhere, a stampede of people running towards us. The only thought in my mind was he's on the second floor, coming this way.

Var and I make a snap decision to run out of the stampede of people and we turn into a side alley with two mall employees, one of whom has a walkie-talkie. I wanted to stay and listen in to any updates via the walkie, but my uneasiness overpowered me because if the shooter was in fact on the same floor with us, there is no where to hide.

Part of me wanted to take a few seconds to tweet. But survival mode kicked in and thought I'd leave the reporting to some of my reporting friends who would undoubtedly know more of what was going on.

Var called Keshan (who was at the Chapters this time, casually reading a book!) and informed him that there was a shooter downtown. This may have played a part in lack of urgency...

We decided to push further back and walked up a stairwell between the second and third floor, where we met with a dozen or so other survivors. 

Seeing the group there made me think of those movies of strangers banding together for survival, minus the high spirit of teamwork. There was one Asian girl, in her twenties, who commanded the rest: "Everyone, shut up! With all of us yelling, he will of course hear us and come this way."

There was absolute silence for .33 seconds, after which everyone erupted in conversation again. The group as a whole wanted to wait it out there, which was probably the better decision. Var and I went outside via an emergency exit.

Big mistake.

The moment we step outside and the door closes behind us, another stampede of people are rushing from the streets toward our direction. My immediate thought is the shooter made it to the street! He's coming this way!

Var would admit that staying outside is better, but I bang on the door trying to get back inside. The door opens and a rush of people start going back inside, away from the street. c

"Who the hell let them back in?!"

"Stay outside!"

"Close the door!"

"There are too many people here!"

True survival mentality kicked in and everyone was thinking of their own safety. It was at this precise time, after the door was firmly shut, that the PA system went on and an announcement for a full evacuation was called.

We all stepped outside. We were just outside the entrance of the Chapters store, near a hot dog stand. Not far from me I saw the McDonald's employee who served my Kids' Meal.

Var was talking with Keshan, who only left the mall because of the evacuation announcement. The three of us finally met up and mixed with the rest of the crowd that had formed outside the mall.

It was saddening to hear updates of victims coming in. We were practically glued to our Twitter feeds that night. There are some images you can't unsee, and that night is one of them.

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