Provenzo: At first a parent, but soon, a reporter
On a typical school day, the parade of buses and cars dropping off students at Franklin Regional Senior High School is a slow but orderly procession.
Wednesday, however, was not typical.
I usually drop my son, Mark, off for school just after 7 a.m. Luckily, we were about 10 minutes late. He never made it inside the building.
Instead, as Mark grabbed his backpack and his bag of clothes for track practice, students began exiting the building.
From the parking lot in front of the main entrance, I could see kids pouring from the main doors and a nearby side exit. A fire alarm blared outside the building.
“Man, we just had a fire drill the other day,” Mark said as he headed toward the designated evacuation area.
As I watched my 15-year-old son walk toward the football stadium, I noticed a female student lying on a curb near the parking lot. She was being attended by at least two faculty members and other students.
“This is not a fire drill,” ran through my mind.
Mark had disappeared in the sea of students. The last thing he said to me was, “We have to go to the field, it's the evacuation area.”
It was then that things began to move very, very quickly.
A female student ran past my vehicle, crying but apparently not injured.
Before I could get out of my vehicle, the police cars began arriving. One, two ... five.
I asked a student what was happening.
“It's a stabbing. People are stabbed.”
It took me a moment to remember that my son was safe.
It was then I noticed the stream of ambulances arriving. I've covered numerous accidents, crimes and fires in my two decades working for the Valley News Dispatch. This was the most ambulances I've ever seen at an emergency scene, at least 10 in my immediate area.
The helicopters began to arrive. One, then two, then two more.
Franklin Regional's campus was swarming with emergency responders.
But the scene outside the school was anything but chaotic.
This emergency response appeared to be rapid, massive and orderly. It wasn't another 10 minutes before I saw victims being taken to waiting helicopters and ambulances. At least six, two girls and four boys, were taken out in those early minutes, including that girl on the curb.
A mother came running up the long driveway to the school, by this time closed to all but emergency vehicles.
“Where's my son?” she yelled at a Monroeville police officer on the road. He waved her to one of the ambulances lined up outside the school.
So, the city editor in me kicks in. I've called the office and reporters, and photographers are on the way.
I take out my cell phone and get a few close-up shots of the emergency response. I can barely do it as my phone blows up with calls and messages — my office, other news organizations, relatives, friends and, finally, my son calling from the middle school.
He's fine, please come and pick him up.
Another hour passes before the school releases my son. It's OK, they're making sure to account for each and every student.
I'm left to think about the families of the injured students. I can't begin to imagine how those families feel.
May their recoveries be full and fast.
Matt Provenzo is an editor for Trib Total Media at the Valley News Dispatch.