Shots Fired

Yesterday afternoon, I was at the Clackamas Town Center when a shooter opened fire with an assault rifle. It’s all over the news, of course. Most people probably know more about it than I do because, to be honest, I’ve mostly avoided the news.

That said, I want to talk about the event as I experienced it. A lot of people have asked questions on Twitter, but that’s not the easiest place to go into detail. So what follows is to the best of my memory, which is, of course, not the most reliable.

First, there are two critical points: I was not hurt, and I did not actually see what happened. Other people saw more and experienced worse than I did.

At about 3:30pm, I was walking out of the mall, eating a pretzel and reading Twitter when I heard a sequence of very loud bangs and felt a strange pitter of pressure against the back of my neck. People near me screamed and ran toward the exit ahead. For a moment, I didn’t understand what was going on. I walked, phone in hand, until I got outside. People continued to run past me, and I heard snippets of talk: “…gunfire…” “…shooter…” “…at least a dozen shots…”

It was only then that I realized what happened. The next thing I did was write a tweet:

The gravity of the situation hadn’t caught up up with me. A woman walked near me, sobbing. I started to reach out for her, but then a man ran up from the other direction and hugged her. They were both crying, and near as I can tell they’d gotten separated inside. Another woman saw the phone in my hand and said should call 9-1-1. “I’m sure lots of people have,” I said, but she said she thought I should anyway. “I would,” she said, “but I don’t have my phone.”

9-1-1 was busy.

Then I tweeted again.

I didn’t run. I never ran. Not out of some kind of inner calm or bravery, I assure you. I was numb. Then I was shaking. I couldn’t find my car at first. People were driving off, sirens were getting closer and all I could think was my car was gone. I didn’t think it was stolen. I thought I hadn’t driven. Did I take the bus? How had I gotten there? I wanted to cry, but I thought if I start crying I won’t be able to find my car. Then I turned around and it was behind me, a few steps away.

I got behind the wheel, and that’s when I started crying. Looking back, I can see that I responded to a couple of tweets from concerned friends, but I have no memory of that. I remember calling my wife and getting her voice mail, and then I remember my agent, Janet calling. She’d seen my tweets and was worried about me. Talking to her helped a lot. Describing what I experienced calmed me down. It’s possible I’m remembering the order of events wrong. My brain tells me I called my wife first, but I also remember talking to Janet about how I needed to call my wife. In any case, not long after my wife called me back and that helped me even more.

In retrospect, I think about those tweets and I wonder what the hell was I thinking? Honestly, nothing. Tweeting? I was scared, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I wasn’t thinking clearly, if at all. But that wasn’t the way I would have wanted my family and friends to find out I’d been so close to an event like this. Still, Janet later said she was glad I tweeted because that’s how she knew to call me.

It leaves me with a lot to think about. Why I reacted the way I did, how others reacted. I know there is a lot of cellphone video out there now. I never occurred to my to do that, but tweeting? First thing.

Something else I’m thinking about is a tweet I made 15 minutes before the shooting:

If I’d had any idea what was coming I certainly never would have tweeted such a thing. In the moment, it was the crush of people, the wash of Axe body spray and perfume, and the kiosk workers shoving things at me that I blithely described as “assault.”

Right now, I’d give anything for the chance to walk through the mall and experience it all again if only the real assault could never have happened.

I still have a lot to process. I worry about people I saw there, including a mom and her kids at the pretzel stand when I was getting my pretzel. I think about the woman sobbing near the Barnes and Noble until her husband or boyfriend found her. I think about how if I’d walked a little slower or a little faster, I’d have been closer or further from the attack. How close was I? Likely farther than it felt in the moment, but still too close. Everyone there was too close.

An event like this makes no sense. In my view, it’s a species of arrogance to expect an event like this to make sense. It’s not a punishment from God, or an act of the Illuminati. Obama didn’t order it. The GOP didn’t cause it. I don’t yet know anything about the shooter, but whatever they find out about him, it’s on him.

So now I get on with my day. Take a shower, get dressed, meet with a client. Work on a web site. Write a poem. Give belly scritches to the poodle and head scritches to the kitty. And think about that mom and her kids from the pretzel stand, sure. But most importantly, love my wife, and love my kids, and dream about my grandkid on the way, and just continue living.

Edit: I’ve got comment moderation active. I’ve gotten a few weird ones, and I don’t want to pollute the comments with rants and irrelevant freak-outs. That said, I have a big meeting to go to shortly, and that means even good comments may sit in moderation for a while. Please be patient. I appreciate your thoughtful additions and will approve them as soon as I can.


  1. I’m just stunned. I was off Twitter for most of yesterday and didn’t see your tweets. So glad you’re okay, and at the same time, so terribly sorry that this happens in the world, and that it happened to you.

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Had a long response written agreeing with you about personal responsibility, but in the end, I am just glad you are okay. So sorry you were there. So sorry it happened.

  3. I’m so glad you’re okay. I think you tweeting what happened was a good thing. It not only let people know you were all right, but it probably helped you process (somewhat) what happened. You were alone, and that was your way of reaching out to try and make sense of a senseless, tragic situation.

    • I think you’re right in one sense, but I think about how if something had happened to me, the way my family would have found out is via Twitter. When I was outside tweeting, I thought things were over, but from what I’ve learned, they weren’t.

      In the end, there is good and, fortunately, no bad which came from it, and in any case, in the big scheme of things my tweets are a small matter.

  4. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Bill. So glad you are okay.

  5. Bill, I’m just so glad that you weren’t hurt. It is a chaotic situation and your mind isn’t moving as fast as the situation is when you’re involved with something like that, so go a little easier on yourself.

    I wish we as a country would find a way to stop all this craziness. We are such a violent country, and that’s not something to be proud of.

  6. You called Jill after I talked to you. And I am so so grateful you’re ok.

    • That’s right. I was in the process of calling her when your call came through. Weird how the brain works. I’m glad you called, that’s for sure.

  7. Amazing account! Although I can’t imagine myself being inside most of the accounts I’ve heard of this tragic event, I found myself in yours. Best wishes to you and thank you for writing this.

  8. I am just so glad you are okay.Sending prayers and wishes out for that mom and her daughters. So scary.

  9. I think some of us turn to Twitter of Facebook because it’s an instant community of friends. You can call individuals later. But right then, you can connect with thousands of friends, an immediate reaching out to your community.
    Twitter was an amazing comfort a couple of years ago when we rushed to the ER with our son. Later I thought, what the hell am I doing? I’m tweeting? Even later I figured out why. Because I needed to let people know what had happened. Because I needed to be with friends. Because I needed help and comfort and all the positive things a community of friends can provide.

    Glad you’re safe, sir.

  10. So glad you’re ok. Never experienced anything like that – and sure as hell don’t want to – but I’ll bet that WTH, slowly sinking in reaction is quite common in situations like that precisely because it *is* so foreign to most people (thankfully).

  11. Bill,

    It’s been quite some time since we’ve been in touch, but you should know that when I heard about this, I thought:about you. I’m glad you’re well.


  12. I live in South Dakota, but I have friends in Portland, and I’ve been to the Clackamas mall several times. I’m not on Twitter, but I got word from several people on Facebook, and learned there that my friends were safe. I’m glad you were able to alert your friends, family and followers immediately.

  13. Oh, Bill… I am so glad that you’re all right. And just stunned. And… I am not a big pray-er, but I am putting all good wishes I can muster out there for everyone involved.

    Major hugs to you and your family,


  14. so glad you’re okay

  15. I’ll echo the sentiments of everyone here in saying I’m glad you’re okay. I can’t imagine what it must have been like. Following along via your Twitter feed, I can say with some authority you gave us all a fright…

  16. Bill,

    I’m glad you’re safe. We think of horrific scenarios as writers, situations and reactions, and are comforted by the fact it’s fiction. I’ve been in a couple hairy situations involving guns, I didn’t react the same either time. The moment was so distinct. After was very similar though, the awareness of what almost happened.

    I missed the tweets, dealing with the explosion here yesterday kept our local newsroom busy. Thanks for the update and sharing.


  17. Bill– As son as I saw your name in the HuffPo article I just knew it was you. I am damn glad you are OK!!!

  18. Your post was compelling reading. Seemed like a normal way to react. Almost as if our brains are programmed to continue as if everything is fine for a few seconds, or minutes, after a major event. Mental momentum. So glad you were okay.

  19. I’ve just returned from a long client meeting which was very normal and properly productive. Thanks to everyone who commented. I’m suddenly very sleepy, which is probably due to tossing and turning all night. :)

  20. Bill, I saw your tweets yesterday and wasn’t sure what to make of them until I saw more news (you seemed so calm, but by your account numb makes a lot more sense). What a scary, crazy thing to be involved in. I’m so glad you’re okay.

  21. Wow, Bill–that is one horrible trip to the mall. I hadn’t heard anything about it until I saw your tweets. I’m glad you’re okay, though I guess being close enough to feel bullets whizzing past your neck is not the kind of thing that would leave anyone feeling “okay.” Wishing you lots of peace, calm and quiet in the next few weeks, as well as plenty of head skritches (or belly skritches, if you prefer).

  22. Oh Bill, glad you are alive. Such a scary moment and your account of it is so visceral. My heart hurts for all the victims. (((hugs)))

  23. I hadn’t even seen your tweets – when I saw the news, the first person I thought of was you. I am just so relieved to know you’re okay, despite what you experienced. We never know how we’ll process trauma like that. Glad Janet was there for you too.

  24. Bill, I saw Twitter late — after the events. I had NO IDEA you were this close — close enough to feel ‘pitter’ and now I’m crying as I type so forgive any typos because I can’t see the damn screen. I’ve never even met you and — damn it. God damn it.

    Just so freakin’ happy you’re ok. I’m glad Janet’s call came through when you needed grounding and now owe you an extra hug for that day when we finally do get to meet in person.

    Congrats on the soon-to-be-grandbaby. :)

  25. OMG Bill! I had NO IDEA!!! I’ve been so Twitter absent lately that I missed everything. THANK GOD you’re okay. I can only imagine what you’re going through. Just know you’re in my thoughts.

  26. Hi Billy! I’m so relieved to hear you are OK!!! Love, Amy

  27. One never knows how one will respond in an emergency. People will often say, “Why didn’t you run?” or “Why didn’t you fight back?” as though a person experiencing such a critical event is capable of rational thought. A lot of the time, surviving is just luck. I’m glad you’re okay!

  28. Hi, everyone. I’m catching up after taking the night off from phones and internets and stuff to go see a movie, drink a beer, and eat a couple slice of pizza. It was great. Thank you again for all the kind thoughts and nice comments.

  29. VERY glad all you felt at the time was an air pressure change. That’s too damned close. Hugs!



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