Wednesday--October 2
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 385
Snipers & Grandsons
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 2--When you get a call that a sniper is shooting people just a block from your grandson’s school, you stop what you’re doing and head toward the shooting spree.
          I heard the sounds of helicopters around 1 p.m.    I thought the President must be in town, for low, swooping chopper sounds usually signal Vigilance for Dignitaries.   What I didn’t know was the helicopter was searching for a Terrorist—not one from Al Qaeda—but a former police officer, 33-year-old Brian Barrigan.  Barrigan was dismissed from the police force in 1997 after testing positive for cocaine use.

        He shot a pre-school teacher, grazing her arm, as she was walking with another teacher and a number of children.    Then all hell broke loose.
         A Level 3 alert was called, mobilizing task forces including city, state and federal law enforcement. 
         SWAT teams, bomb squads, and an army of police on the ground and in the air converged a block near my grandson’s school—unsure what was happening—there to protect the citizens of New York City, especially the children.
          My wife was on her way to pick up our grandson, Matt, from his first grade class.  His mother was working at the church, and his father at his job.   I got a call from Matt’s father, worried about his son’s safety.  Immediately, I received another call from our other daughter, who is a federal special agent here in New York and Matt's mother's sister.  She was on her way to the school.
          I packed up my camera and rushed out the door.  I wore my New York State Patrol shirt, just in case I needed to go through the police lines.

         The jammed streets of New York City were bustling as normal.   There was no panic, for few people knew what was happening.  Earlier, I had scanned the television for “breaking news” and found none about the sniper.  I thought that odd in a city where a Level 3 alert was underway.
          I got to the school and it was locked.  The children were detained within the sanctuary of  the gymnasium until the sniper and any threat to their safety was under control.   To enter the school, you were directed to a back door on another street, exiting in the farthest direction from potential danger.
          Inside, the children were lined up by classes.   Teachers orchestrated order.   No one was allowed to leave until there was an “all clear” by the police.    I waited outside for my wife who was working her way across town.  She had earlier picked up our four-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, from pre-school about a twenty-minute walk away.    I was betting she knew nothing about the event, since the city seemed immune to the news a sniper was shooting at and hitting people in the East Village.
         I kept in contact with my younger daughter, traveling down the jammed streets.   I told her the scene looked controlled, and to meet me at the back of the school.    I liked the idea she was armed, and her partner was with her in case something happened.   When a Terrorist attacks, it is good to have firepower at your side in case you become the target.

       We waited for the all clear.   The kids mother and father arrived, worried about the children’s safety.    There we were, mother, father, grandparents and aunt, forming a Circle of Vigilance around the children.  
        The woman who opened the back door of the school said to me:  “Haven’t we been through enough.  These poor kids.”

        I thought about it.   A year and a few weeks ago the children had watched two of the most magnificent structures in New York City crumble.   They had cried with their friends—children of firemen, police, and citizens who had perished in the Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
        Our grandson had suggested we invite the children who lost parents to come play at our house, since they would be lonely.   Our granddaughter thought she found the “missing Twin Towers” on a sign painted on a large truck that passed by the bus one day.   She had also cried when Candles of Vigilance were snuffed out in a Manicure store window she liked to visit after school and think the thoughts that only three-year-olds (her age at that time) think about death and destruction and the souls of the departed.
         Now, there was a new Ace of Spades in the deck.

         Death’s hand reached out one more time.
         It put its cold fingers on the shoulders of the children of my grandson’s school, and its rippling effect made its way to the eyes and ears of other children who would wonder why anyone would shoot a school teacher, or shoot at a bunch of children huddled around her.
         The Beast of Terror knows no compunction.   Its fangs are indiscriminate.  It can sink them in the most innocent without a blink, and shake the frail bodies of children without a sneeze of regret.
          I watched the teachers comforting the children.   They stood like the Sentinels of Vigilance I know hover over the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and lonely field in Pennsylvania.   They were willing to give their lives to protect the children’s outsides and their insides.  They not only were concerned with their physical safety, but their emotional security as well.
          Outside the wall of the school was a sniper, twisted in his thinking, a man turned beast.   He was a man of Terror, opposite the teachers who stood as signposts of security for the children, symbols of trust and confidence for the young, innocent.
           I wondered if the man with weapons shooting at innocent people had been raised with a Pledge of Vigilance as part of his home, and was taught to face his Fears with Courage, and his Intimidations with Conviction, and that his mission was to take the Right Action in behalf of the children, and the children’s children…I wondered if such a man would shoot at a school teacher, and risk the lives of innocent children had he been trained differently?
           No one can answer that question with certainty, but the probability of a Boy of Vigilance growing into a Man of Vigilance outweighed the odds he would evolve into a mad sniper, bent on destroying innocent life.   

         As I huddled with my family—my wife, children, grandchildren—and the sounds of sirens wailed and the beat of helicopter blades slicing through the sky overhead pulsed through the air, I knew again the Pledge of Vigilance was the right tool for these troubled times.
           I knew that some child, somewhere, sometime, might be brought up with Tools of Vigilance.   I knew that those tools were designed to beat back the Beast of Terror that lurks in our Fears, our Intimidations and our Complacencies.    I knew that a child—boy or girl—who was taught the Principles of Vigilance would find it hard to climb up to a rooftop and shoot at others, especially children, or their parents, or their guardians.
         We made our way home safely.   We took the grandchildren to our apartment as we do each Wednesday.    I asked my grandson if he was afraid.   “Afraid of what?” he replied.
       I didn’t pry.    The kids were playing.   Their world was safe.   The Sentinels of Vigilance had shoved the Shield of Vigilance in front of them.  


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