‘He looked me straight in the eyes and muttered a single word: RUN.’: Crowd of thousands mistake popped water bottle for gunshot, woman claims mass shootings have us all ‘living in fear’

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“I went back and forth on whether to submit this piece and, ultimately, decided I should. Especially in light of the events of the past few weeks.

I am a 17-year-old who simply can’t believe this is the world I am growing up in. I chose to submit this anonymously as this is not an issue that is affecting just me. My generation has grown up with these tragedies surrounding us and the worry in the back of our mind that it could be us next. I hope a change is made. I hope someone reading this piece realizes the true gravity of this issue surrounding our country.

He looked me straight in the eyes and uttered a single word: run.

Even after the Sandy Hook Shooting in Newtown occurred just 20 minutes from my school, my mom still insisted we wouldn’t live in fear. She maintained this belief even after my cousin was murdered on the third floor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The confidence with which she expressed this made it impossible for me to consider how quickly this statement could be proven untrue.

September 29th, 2018. My fourth year of attending the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. This event was one of my favorite days of the year. I loved the way such a fun day could be combined with such a meaningful impact. During my first year at the festival, I proudly exclaimed I was most excited to see Ban Ki-moon to a very confused interviewer. That same year, Malala had been about fifteen feet from where I was standing and I still strongly believe she was waving to me.

For the 2018 Festival, I was lucky enough to win eight tickets so I brought my family, aunt, uncle, cousin, and friend with me. We waited in line for five hours, eagerly conversing with others about the day ahead before making our way onto the Great Lawn. My friend and I excitedly walked around the venue, our only fear being unable to find our spot within the 60,000 person crowd. We danced along as Shawn Mendes, Cardi B, and John Legend performed their acts and listened attentively as international politicians spoke about how we could fulfill The Sustainable Development Goals by their intended 2030 completion.

And then I heard it:

‘Gun!’

Screams erupted and everyone dropped to the floor. I clung to the arm of my friend as we pressed ourselves against a metal barrier, previously protection and now an obstacle to our safe escape as a stampede of bodies pressed towards us. My mom pushed us to stand up and try to jump the barrier. A firearm clutched in his hand, an NYPD officer looked us straight in the eyes and told us to run.

Hands clasped with my friend, we shared a mutual look of pure terror before breaking into a sprint, jumping over fences, and dodging trees as we tried to get as far away as we could. Adrenaline carried us. I looked behind me and saw no one but my mom. Realizing I had no idea where the rest of my family was, I began to scream and hyperventilate. Hundreds of police officers ran towards the park, guns pulled, screaming at us to not stop running and keep our heads down. My mom, friend and I only stopped as we passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Miraculously, the rest of my family found us minutes later, none of us with any way to contact the others as we had left our phones behind. We huddled in a corner outside the museum, staring into this still unknown reality.

In the end it was a popped water bottle. The clang of falling barricades, causing tens of thousands of people to immediately think we were under attack. Though no bullets were fired that evening, thousands and thousands of people believed they were in immediate danger.

Sometimes, this night seems like a movie I watched from third person. It was traumatizing. I only remember flashes of what happened. It felt like I was drifting in and out of my body. As much as we hate to believe it, we DO live in fear. Thank goodness it was nothing. But I will now live the rest of my life remembering the fear. Remembering the panic. The terror. I will remember it as if it were real because in the moment. I thought it was.

Subconsciously, we all live on alert of this situation plaguing our nation and are more than ready to believe in a moment that we are being attacked. Since that day, I have changed. I still try to do things without the fear of what could happen, but I can no longer say when I enter a movie theater, or a classroom, or a mall I don’t think about the best way to escape if I need it. When I hear a sudden loud noise, something as simple as an unexpected firework or elementary schoolers shrieking on a playground, I can no longer say my immediate response isn’t one of fight or flight. Crowds scare me. I need to see an exit. Why is that okay? How is this the world I live in?

I don’t know what the perfect fix is. I don’t even know if there is a perfect fix to make shootings a part of history and not our present. But what I do know is this: No one wants mass shootings to continue. So please, for my generation, for the next generation, for everyone, fix it.”

This story was submitted anonymously to Love What Matters. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more inspiring stories about strength: 

‘How many people did you cross today? 5. Maybe 30? It takes 2 minutes to alter someone’s day.’: In wake of mass shootings, mom urges us to take 2 minutes to spread ‘kindness’

‘What would we do if someone started shooting?,’ I wondered in church. I could feel my heart racing.’: Mom says her fear can be ‘crippling’ following mass shootings, but knows there will ‘always be light’

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