Discovery incident yesterday: One Discovery family’s experience

My husband Chris works at Discovery in downtown Silver Spring. Yesterday afternoon he called my mobile to say that there was “some serious stuff going down at Discovery.”

I thought he meant that there were staff changes or layoffs or something.

Instead, he went on to explain that he was calling from within his locked office because there was a gunman in the building, the gunman had hostages and might also have a bomb.

You know, just another day at work for an IT guy.

I was out with my kids at a McDonald’s Playland, having taken them out for a special First Day of School lunch of forbidden fast food, a new plastic toy and a romp through a Hamburgler-decorated maze.  Away from my computer, with my phone in my purse, Chris’s call was the first I heard of the emergency.  He was very calm.  He didn’t want to talk much, didn’t say anything very dramatic, and told me he’d call me back when he had more information.

Later that evening he explained to me that he didn’t want to be chatting loudly in his office in case the guy was going around individual offices taking out people a la the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy (that I forced him to watch with me). He also said that he moved his chair from out from behind his desk and positioned it directly inside the door with his laptop on his lap, that way if someone walked past his office, it would not be apparent from glancing through the frosted glass on either side of the door that the office was occupied. Chris also explained that a key had been stuck in his office door for awhile, preventing the door from locking, normally not a big deal. But upon receiving the company-wide email to Discovery employees to retreat to locked offices, after 20 tries he finally got the key unstuck.

So after this phone call, I load the kids in the car and start driving home. For once, I am relieved that they are being super loud and squabbling and totally ignoring me on my phone. But after hanging up with Chris, who do I call? Chris’s parents or siblings, and totally freak them the heck out?  My own family, and do the same? Call Chris again and be all “I love you!” fatalistic and unhelpful? But since I’ve never learned to think before I speak, the act of just talking to someone seemed calming.

So I pull up my phone history and look at the people on it.  I call my friend K., whose husband also works in downtown Silver Spring, get a busy line message, and don’t leave a message because what do you say without scaring her for hopefully no reason (her husband does not work at Discovery, just nearby). Then I call WhyMommy Susan, for no other reason than that she is good with unexpected scary crap and a very good friend.

OK, I’ll admit it: The real reason I called Susan is that once she called me to pray for her when she was scared that something bad might be happening and I did and then I asked other people to pray too and then everything turned out totally fine. I wanted the same result and so it seemed logical at the time to call her and do the same thing. Apparently, the American chick’s incorrect interpretation of karma is totally Catholic. Or maybe it’s that sometimes when you are too in shock to pray yourself, and just have to work on driving your car at  the speed limit and buckling the kids’ seat belts and using your turn signal correctly, what you do is you ask your friends to pray because you cannot.

Susan was great and invited us to come hang out at her house. I stumbling told her yes, but I needed to go home first and get my laptop to see what was happening, and then no, I’d rather go home so I could be reached by two phones, put the kids in front of a kid DVD that could not be interrupted by a breaking newscast and then just read the news on my computer in another room. I had a few other stumbling calls with K. and my friend M. too until we arrived home.

Chris and I both kept up with the situation on our laptops as it unfolded via Twitter, using the hashtag #Discovery.  Normally I just use Twitter to very casually keep up with my friends, readers and fellow bloggers, but yesterday it was an ideal minute-by-minute aggregate of all the media and personal accounts available.  It was also a silent medium, as I did NOT want my children to see that building they know so well, “Daddy’s building”, on the television, or them to hear anything via news radio or streaming media to scare them.

More friends began calling us, and I was grateful for something to do. Even just taking a call, saying I didn’t know anything more and would keep them posted kept me busy.

And then I looked out the window and Susan was pulling into the driveway, bearing her kids (one still in his first-day-of-school outfit, the other asleep on her shoulder), homemade cookies and a kid DVD.  She cheerily settled down in the family room to watch TV and play with the kids, freeing me up to retreat to my computer and phones out of their earshot. Susan is awesome.

Chris then called and said that he and other employees were evacuated to another part of the building and that the gunman was on the first floor.  We both worried aloud about the daycare center, also located on the first floor.  And since the guy’s awful nutso manifesto was now being tweeted around, I also knew that this guy literally viewed children as filthy creatures. We wondered if his hostage was a child or if the guy really had explosives.  Just thinking of those “what ifs”, connected to children, was another scary moment, almost as scary as Chris saying that he was locked in his office.

And then Chris called to say he was out of the building, the hostage was a security guard (at this point everyone thought there was only one hostage) and that he saw that the daycare center kids were evacuated to the nearby McDonald’s because it was air-conditioned (yes, McDonald’s again).

And this is when I finally freaked out and told him to get his ass home NOW, leave the car in its spot under the building, don’t wait for an official dismissal, if the police let you leave, LEAVE.  And he did. While he Metroed home, I was able to update his family all at once that he was out and safe via Facebook and speak to his mother. And when he arrived at the Metro station, I left the kids with Susan. (AGAIN, THANK YOU SUSAN FOR BEING HERE – oh, Susan was keeping up with the situation via her iPhone, and she let me know that our blogging-social-media-maven friend Gayle who also works at Discovery happened to be in NY yesterday and was safe.)

Kid-less, I was able to zoom over the posted limit to the Metro station near our house to get Chris. The Metro station was packed with people with eyes glued to their phones and similarly waiting to be picked up.

We came home and took turns playing with the kids while the other one manned the phones and Twitter links from the media, as the authorities were now holding press briefings. I heard from the wonderful Patti that she was at her office in downtown Silver Spring, not far from Discovery, but waiting to be released.  Patti was very calm and focused on Chris’s safety. Today I am worried that I wasn’t concerned enough about how she was doing, in my relief to have Chris home.

Still via Twitter, we learned that there was a “small group of hostages,” all adults.  And then we learned that the hostages were out. And then that they were three in number and not physically injured. And then that Lee was shot.

One thing that REALLY bugged yesterday: the people clogging the #Discovery feed on Twitter with their jokes.  I understand the place for a joke about current events, but not while the horrible event is happening. Not on the information stream that families of the hostages or SWAT team or emergency personnel are using to keep updated about their loved ones’ safety. Some people were making jokes before the employees were released from the building, when the news story was just minutes old. And LOTS of people were making jokes before the three hostages were freed.  They made these jokes, again, using the #Discovery hashtag. Those people angered me greatly yesterday. And today. Their deadliestcatchsharkweekwheresbeargryllswhenyouneedhim jokes were ridiculously unhelpful. They could have made the jokes without the hashtag designated for breaking news.

The people who were concerned about my husband and his colleagues, whether they were the trained snipers risking their lives on site, the police negotiators who talked with Lee for hours yesterday, the SWAT teams searching for explosives, the police that safely evacuated the building, or the Discovery staff assisting the police in the building, those individuals impressed me beyond belief yesterday.  My heart goes out to the three hostages who kept their cool and were so brave as they were held for four hours at gunpoint. (See statement from hostage Jim McNulty, God bless him.) I am impressed with Discovery’s statements and post-incident work today, and the media’s coverage of the event as it happened yesterday.

Our friends (from the intimate to the virtual pals of Facebook and Twitter) and family who called and emailed and texted and Tweeted and Facebooked and just sent their love and concern and prayers and support and friendship were also amazing.  Thank you.

Our evening concluded last night with soccer practice – Charlie playing, Chris helping coach, Eve playing with the other soccer sibs on the playground, and me chilling and chatting with the other parents from our spectator chairs.  I learned that a family I adore is expecting a baby. Good stuff. Normal stuff. Our happy life as usual.

So, um, I don’t really have a recommendation of something fun and new and exciting to do with your family today. I think we’ve all had enough excitement in Silver Spring to last us a good long while.

Comments

  1. You were the first person I thought of yesterday when this happened.  And I remebered all of us in the building together a few months ago.  So glad everyone is home and safe.  Much love.

  2. LeticiaTechSavvyMama says

    Thank you for sharing your story and thank goodness Chris returned home safely.  ((hugs))

  3. Andrea Meyers says

    What a nightmare! I’m so glad you had Susan to help, she’s wonderful. And I’m glad that Chris and everyone else are all safe and sound. I’d say you’ve had enough excitement for a few days. Enjoy a relaxing weekend!

  4. I’m a regular reader of your blog, Jessica. Thanks for sharing your story and very glad that Chris and his co-workers are OK. Wishing your family a peaceful day. 

  5. So scary!  You just never expect that kind of thing!  I am glad everyone is okay and it all worked out.  You did a good job shielding your kids from this.  Whew!  Take a few days off to play with the kids and enjoy your family!

  6. Oh my goodness! The thigs I miss with no TV. I can’t believe that was going on in my backyard! I am SO glad that Chris is safe and that you had good friends to help you through a really tough day.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story. My uncle was evacuated as well. Glad everyone is safe and sound. You both made some great decisions during a time of crisis. 

  8. How awful and stressful for everyone involved! How I wish we could turn back the clock to a time when workplace violence was rare, but thanks for sharing your experience. It’s another reminder that especially in these difficult times it’s so important that real and virtual friends ‘have your back.’

  9. amy @teachmama says

    phew.  I caught the whole thing as I was turning on the tv for the kids while I made dinner, so my prayers and well-wishes began at about 4:30pm, after everything was over and (hopefully) Chris was home safe and sound.

    Seriously, please don’t share fun activities this weekend, Jess.  Turn off the computer, hang with your hubby and kids, and enjoy as much peace and quiet as possible.

    Hugs to you, hooray! to Susan for being there for you, and just know that you were on my mind as soon as I heard about it.

  10. Thank goodness for good friends! I’m glad Chris and everyone at Discovery came out of yesterday’s ordeal ok. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. I can’t even imagine how terrifying this must have been for you and your family. I am relieved beyond words that all the employees and children at the building made it out safely. Much love to you and your family.

  12. Gah, I am so so glad you guys are okay!  I was thinking of you yesterday and wondering if you were fine.  So glad that was true!!

  13. So glad you guys are OK. How harrowing!! My friend’s husband works there too and I was so relieved to hear none of the Discovery employees was hurt.

  14. Lynn from OrganicMania.com says

    Jessica,

    I did not know your husband worked for Discovery until I saw your tweet that all was well. Thank God! (Also, haviing only met you just once, I fully expected you to tweet something funny, so when you let us know you were drinking and making out, I wasn’t surprised!)

    Do you have any idea how they got the kids out? I haven’t seen any reports about that. Did they somehow sneak them out? Did he let them take them out?

  15. nic @mybottlesup says

    i’m so glad you wrote and published this on here today.  you were the first person i thought about when this news broke yesterday.  i don’t even know if you remember meeting me at the first momzshare event at jennifer’s house, but you gave me the sweetest, most sincere hug when i arrived, having never met anyone a la blog world before.  

    i wanted to hug you back yesterday so much.

  16. I’ve been hearing stories about yesterday all day, but not from the people who were on the outside waiting for news. How unbelievably stressful. So glad, of course, that he (and everyone else) got out unharmed. Still keep thinking about the three people in the lobby for four hours. What is striking me today, too, is the strength of the community here at Discovery – including the families. Thanks for this post.

  17. MT1099@hotmail.com says

    So glad everything worked out for you!  It is amazing that it happened so close to home yesterday.  Another wake-up call to be thankful for every day!

  18. Mommy Jones says

    This is every mother’s nightmare.  I’m sorry you went through this.  Thank you for being the kind of person who can share this and help us understand our own world in a more intimate way.

  19. Thank God he is safe!  So glad you had your friend to help you.  Hope you are getting back to normal today – makes us all appreciate our loved ones more!

  20. So happy for your family that all turned out well.  Blessings to you all for courage and unbelievable patience in dealing through the situation. 

  21. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that.  I didn’t even know until this incident that your husband worked there.  Thank you for taking the time to share the story and let us know both an “insider’s” (Chris’s) experience and then the experience of being the spouse on the other end of the call.

    And Susan is a saint!

  22. Shawna Tomlinson Scipione says

    I didn’t want to inondate you with yet another message while it was happening…I knew Chris worked there and was thinking of you.  I’m glad it’s over.

  23. Just want you to know that I heard about this via Susan on twitter long before it was news here in New Zealand (I follow Susan as I am a fellow IBCer) -although there is a big article on it in our main newspaper  this morning –  knowing that she knew someone in the building made it all more real.  I totally agree with you that the people who were posting the jokes lacked taste, tact and sensitivity – if they really felt the need to make tasteless jokes why didnt they use #discoveryjokes as a hashtag to keep them off the main #discovery twitterstream
    I twitter and blog as jaydub26
    http://getoutgertrude.wordpress.com/

  24. Thank you!

  25. Thank you!  I heard you were waiting in the wings if needed yesterday. Thanks so much.

  26. Have a great weekend too!

  27. Thank you!!

  28. Thanks Rachel!  We will!

  29. I’m glad you didn’t hear about it! And glad it is over! TY. xo

  30. Very happy your uncle was OK. Hope he is recovering from the scariness.

  31. Thank you, new friend from BlogHer, for virtually having my back too. I’ve got yours from MD as well!

  32. thank you amy!

  33. thank yiou shannon!!!

  34. thank you Jean!!

  35. thank you very much!

  36. thank you Leah! we too are so glad that all Discovery employees were physically OK yesterday!

  37. thanks for your support. we made out a bit until i passed out. chugged drinks on empty stomach and extreme stress aren’t super romantic after all.

  38. thank you nic – of COURSE i remember you! i really appreciate your support and love.

  39. thank you gayle. i was very glad to hear you were ok yesterday. i believe the updates from Discovery and your team today have been great. Thank you!

  40. thank you!!!

  41. thank you for liking this account. it felt a little gratuitous to me when posting. but hard to think of anything else to write about today. and easier to write once for all then individually via emails.

  42. thank you jeannie!

  43. thank you so much Cristina!

  44. Yes, Susan is a saint. We are so blessed to call her a friend. Thank you JJ for your friendship too.

  45. Thank you Shawna! Very happy all is over so i can go back to writing too long effed up “reply all” messages on Facebook. 🙂

  46. thanks for getting that!

  47. workout mommy says

    how incredibly scary! I’m so glad that everything turned out okay!

    what a wonderful friend to have—everyone should have a susan in their life! 🙂

  48. I love you so much. 

  49. Jessica, thank you for sharing.  So horrible what all of you and other Discovery families went through yesterday. As noted by another below, this took a lot of courage, patience, and resilience by everyone in the mix.  

    I wanted to note, inevitably a good number of Discovery staff who experienced this or their family members will experience varying degrees of post-traumatic stress now or later on.  My hope is that Discovery will provide info to staff to be alert to this in themselves or family members.   However, this link has some basic resources http://www.istss.org/AboutTraumaticStress/1490.htm – and others may have better links.

    Thanks again for sharing, and am relieved you have Chris back at home. warmly, Meredith

  50. Oh sweetie, thank you so much for sharing your story. I still get chills thinking about what could have happened. I’m glad that Chris is safe. It could have gone so wrong.

    One of the reason I love Twitter is we can keep update about situations like this way faster than the news can keep up.

    I don’t know what else to say except to give you virtual hugs.

  51. Thank you for shariing your story.  There are so many lessons in it for all of us.  The manner in which you handled protecting the children from the news, the importance of having real friends “everyone should have a Susan”, the realization that this can happen anywhere, to anyone, and to remind us all that each day is a blessing, to live each day to the fullest and remind us to hug and tell those we love just how much we do.  Again, thank you for sharing your story.

  52. Corey Feldman says

    I’m so sorry you and your family had to go through this. 

  53. No, I’m not.  I’m just a friend.  Anyone would have done the same.

  54. Responding to a stressful incident by cracking jokes is normal human behavior.  Twitter was not designed to be a news source, but rather to facilitate social networking.  And yes, that includes tasteless jokes when things like this happen.  That’s the bad that comes along with the good (increased flow of information due to collaboration).  I’m not trying to find fault, I just find it annoying when people treat Twitter as something it was never intended to be.

    I’m glad all ended well with your family.  I work across the street from the Discovery building and it was quite surreal to see the nursery being evacuated with the kids still in their cribs.  Interesting day, all around.

  55. funny how your normal sense of humor leaves you when you’re worried for your loved one’s life, the lives of innocent people. 

    thank you for telling me what Twitter was designed for though! here i thought the uses of social media were still evolviing.

    also, i didn’t knock the joking on Twitter, just the joking on the designated breaking news avenue.

    sorry for my lack of kindness in my reply. i probably would be less caustic in a couple days. or to a commenter how replied with his/her real name and persona.

    Love,
    HawtieMcFee75

  56. Thank you Corey

  57. Thank you Lisa!

  58. Thank you Kim!!

  59. Thank you Meredith! Just as the Discovery staff took GREAT care of their people during the emergency, I know first-hand that Discovery takes amazingly great care of their employees complete medical needs. I am sure that the employees that need help will receive great care. Thank you for the link – a great roundup of resources for us all.

  60. I LOVE YOU. Thank you for calling me yesterday and offering support. Talking to friends like you helped the @#$%y time pass much more quickly than just sitting there.

  61. Here here. Susan is incredible. Thank you for your concern.

  62. Oh, Jess. I can’t even imagine.  I’m impressed you didn’t fall apart and I’m so glad everyone is safe.

  63. JESS… I’m so glad to read that Chris is OK!  I was so nervous for you and your family all day and I’ve been praying and thinking about you.  Glad he’s okay… but what an ordeal!!  Glad you have a long weekend to decompress.

  64. Thank you!!!!

  65. Thank you Erin!!

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