At the Edmund Burke school, a frightening confinement of several hours


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Classes were finally over at the Edmund Burke School in northwest Washington, so 15-year-old Phoenix Gault-Brown, a sophomore, gathered his things on the upper school’s second floor and headed prepared to get off for the car pool lane. He had planned a fairly routine evening – he was going to hit the gym and lift weights.

He was walking towards the nearby raised glass pedestrian bridge when suddenly its windows shattered, spraying the space with glass and bullets. At first, Phoenix thought, it was a bomb. But nothing exploded. So he knew. Everyone, he said, knew.

“Everyone started running towards the nearest stairwell. It was just terrifying. Everybody’s faces, they just dropped,” Phoenix said.

The explosion of gunfire that ripped through the otherwise quiet part of Washington’s upper northwest — about a mile north of the National Zoo — injured three adults and a minor. One of the victims was a man who provides security for Burke and the Georgetown Day School, according to an email from the Georgetown Day School principal. sent to his community on Saturday.

Police identified Raymond Spencer, of Fairfax, Va., as a person of interest in the shooting before saying a suspect was discovered dead that night in an apartment filled with firearms, ammunition and a tripod.

But the shooting also created a sense of security and insularity at one of Washington’s most elite private schools, which runs from sixth through 12th grade and has about 300 students, according to its website. On Saturday, Burke’s school principal Damian Jones sent an email to the school community with the subject line “Holding You In Care.”

“Dear community, We have no words yet for what we all went through yesterday. Today, I first want to express my deepest care and love, and the assurance that we will be there for you every moment,” he wrote. “I also want to emphasize that everyone world did everything right and everything they could: our faculty, staff and administrators who housed, cared for and housed our students; our young people who showed deep courage and compassion for one towards others, and even brought lightness to the long hours of yesterday…”

Jones, who also acknowledged help from school neighbors and local and federal law enforcement officials for arriving within minutes, announced there would be no classes on Monday. He said the school administration will meet over the next two days to discuss how it can “best meet the mental and physical needs of our community in the days and weeks ahead”.

Jones did not return messages seeking comment.

Burke, which was founded in 1968, markets itself as a “progressive college preparatory school” that offers an “inclusive environment.” At each grade level, Burke students complete a year-long “integrated program of citizenship, equity, and leadership, grounded in social justice pedagogy.” Its compound, which sits along one of the city’s most vital corridors, Connecticut Avenue, looks less like a traditional school and more like a modern corporate headquarters. A four-story building facing Connecticut Avenue – Burke’s middle school – is enveloped in large windows and connects to the high school through the raised glazed bridge.

Those same design features, however, made Friday’s shoot even scarier, Phoenix said. Once he saw the catwalk windows smash, he said he and several other students rushed to the stairwells so they could get down and out of the school. But as they raced down the steps, someone below shouted that the shooter might be lurking nearby. So everyone ran to get back up.

Then, Phoenix said, he was on the third floor of the high school in the foreign language office with a dozen other students. A Spanish teacher, he said, slammed the door and everyone slid under three or four desks or sat on the floor against the walls. People were crying and huddled together.

“One of my classmates was calling the police, but because so many people were calling the police, she was put on hold and she started hyperventilating,” he said. ” I was shaking. I was holding my friend’s hand. It was nice to have someone with me. We didn’t feel so alone. I was panicked. But she was just like, ‘Calm down, calm down, you’ll be fine.'”

Meanwhile, Phoenix’s parents, Barbara Gault and his wife Susan Gault-Brown, had left the family home in Maryland and were running to Burke. They had been alerted to the shooting by their neighbor, Patricia Termini, 63, who was fourth in line in her SUV to drive Phoenix and his best friend home. Bullets hit her car and one grazed her shoulder, bruising her, she said.

On the way to school, Gault-Brown checked her phone and saw a barrage of text messages from her son. The first reading: “I love you so much mom.” The second: “There are shots.” The third: “School”. The fourth: “I can’t call you.” The fifth: “We must be silent.” The sixth: “The shots did not stop.”

Gault-Brown replied, “Are you okay, we love you.”

“I hide. I am [in] an office,” he wrote.

“We’re coming,” Gault-Brown said.

“There are sirens everywhere.

“We love you. It’s going to be okay.

“I love you too. There are cops I think.”

“We’ll be there in 15 minutes.

“There are shots. And screaming. Is it close.”

“We love you so much and we’ll be here soon.”

When they finally arrived near Tilden Street, Gault said she and his wife were unsure what else they could write to their son to help him.

“I just said, ‘You’re doing great, keep doing what you’re doing,’ and ‘I love you,'” Gault recalled. “But I was thinking, ‘Should I tell him to fight or barricade’? I thought the teachers knew what they were doing. I felt so helpless, standing there not knowing what was going on.

At around 4:15 p.m., the school sent an email with the subject line “Emergency Notice.” In all-red font, the message read: ‘As you may have heard there was a shooting outside the school after school ended. Police and SWAT are on site, so you cannot enter buildings at this time. Please be aware that we are unable to respond to calls and emails at this time. We will follow up when we know more. »

As shootings mount, anger grows that it ‘happens again and again’

As Phoenix was trapped inside the Foreign Languages ​​office, he and others in the room began barricading the door with filing cabinets and boxes of books. At one point, he surveyed the room, eyeing potential self-defense weapons.

“I didn’t have any in mind,” Phoenix said. “If the worst came to the worst, I would just pick up my backpack and throw it away.”

He and others in the office checked their phones, scouring the Internet for news alerts or official updates. The screams of the police outside filtered into their room. They felt safe, he said, but not entirely.

Soon, the police entered the school and took everyone down to the upper school’s basement gymnasium. As the students moved around, everyone chatted and compared notes. Where were you when filming started? Who were you hiding with?

“One person said to me, ‘I guess that’s what you can expect when you go to school in America,'” Phoenix recalled. “A friend of mine said, ‘It sucks that we know what to do in a situation like this.’ It certainly helped to be able to talk about it. It grounded the situation more to hear it from multiple angles.

As the hours passed, Burke sent more emails with all-red police messages. At 5:10 p.m., “At this time the buildings are secure, and all students and adults who were in the buildings are safe and in secure areas with law enforcement. We will likely be here for some time, and we’ll share more when we can. About an hour later, the school told parents that police officers were interviewing the students and that when these sessions were over, they would be transported to the library in Cleveland Park, about a half -mile south on Connecticut Avenue, the designated “reunification point”.

Around 8 p.m., Gault and his wife went to the library. On the first floor, parents gathered in a meeting room where, one by one, the names of their children were announced as ready to be picked up from the foyer. Each time a name was called, many parents cheered and clapped. Once they heard Phoenix’s name, Gault and his wife rushed from their chairs and ran out of the meeting room and into the lobby, where the three hugged and celebrated.

“It was reassuring to see his smile. I felt like he would probably be fine,” Gault said.

“It was incredibly relieving,” Phoenix said. “The stress of the day was gone. I hugged them both and said, ‘I just want to go home.’ My mothers touched my hair. They made sure I was there.

Peter Hermann and Marc Fisher contributed to this report.

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