Annie Tan told his students that the shelter-in-place order was just a drill. Tan, 32, teaches special education in fourth and fifth grades at an elementary school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and hours earlier had walked through the subway station where an unidentified man opened fire on the children. commuters Tuesday morning. The students thought the exercise seemed oddly long, she said. Finally, knowing that her students would notice that the subway was closed, she told them that the trains weren’t running because of a police investigation.
“Immediately a student asked if it was a shooting.” Tan called back. “This just broke my heart.” She told them that “everyone is alive, no one was killed, you will hear from your families what happened, and we will talk about it tomorrow”.
But, adds Tan, “Right now, I’m not sure what I’m going to say tomorrow.”
At first, many New Yorkers feared the shooting was a terrorist attack. But authorities quickly announced that they were not treating it as a terrorism investigation, and that of the at least 29 people injured in the attack, none had life-threatening injuries. Yet the shooter remained at large, forcing local schools to implement shelter-in-place orders that only deepened the sense of unease.
In interviews, New York parents described a day of terror that oscillated between heightened fear in the aftermath of 9/11, logistical anxiety over COVID-19, renewed alarm about subway crime after years of relative safety, and stomach -unleashing terror of school shootings. The afternoon, most schools outside the immediate vicinity had lifted the shelter-in-place order, but the unease persisted.
When she heard the news of the shooting, Lynn Harris knew her family was fine: her husband had already started his bike ride to Manhattan, her teenage children were found, the family housekeeper was safe and in touch . But even so, Tuesday morning’s shooting at a subway station not far from her home in Brooklyn had shaken her more than she expected.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to is scared when New York is scared,” said Harris, 53, a comedy company founder. She said the morning reminded her of other times when New York had been in crisis, from 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy. “It’s the atmosphere, it’s the sound of sirens, the sound of helicopters, the ‘are you okay? texting is what triggers and traumatizes a lot of New Yorkers. We know this mode, we hate this mode.
“It’s been pretty scary and unsettling, to say the least,” says Jessie Bukewicz, 38-year-old project manager for an interior design firm. Her 6-year-old and her 3-year-old were sheltering in place at school, although she is grateful that her children’s teachers did not fully explain what was going on, to avoid upsetting the children . Their after-school programs were canceled, so Bukewicz took in several of her daughters’ classmates at her home until their parents could pick them up.
“It was really scary to get the letter from the DOE learning that the children were sheltering in place,” she said. “Especially since the shooter is still at large.”
Bukewicz, a New York native, said she’s never worried about taking the subway, but lately has reconsidered that stance. “Since the pandemic, I haven’t felt so comfortable on the subway,” she said. In addition, the fear of terrorism was disturbing. “As someone who also lived through 9/11, it puts you in a weird place and it’s scary.”
Other parents said they were dismayed that they hadn’t heard more from their children’s schools. Jennifer Arnett, a 48-year-old woman who works at a Brooklyn nonprofit, said she was upset that she didn’t hear anything from her daughter’s Coney Island High School until she received a robocall recorded at 2 p.m. She said her daughter didn’t hear about the shooting until she texted her. “It’s not very good for New York,” she said. “We can’t rely on the government to protect us or give us updates to let us know what’s going on. It’s as if we had to rely on our own common sense.
Tan took the ferry home, as the subways were closed. She is still thinking about how to tell her students about what happened without scaring them. “They heard about other shootings in other places, but they didn’t hear about it in New York,” she said, referring to the Las Vegas shooting and the Parkland shooting. “It’s very different that it happened right next to us, next to a station they use.”
More Must-Have Stories from TIME