Three years ago, San Bernardino appears on the map of every news station, the city with a high crime rate suddenly became known to everyone and joined a terrifying list of locations directly affected by terrorism. It was my second year of university, I was just getting the hang of balancing a life of academics, work and personal activities, I was still wondering what I wanted to do once I graduated; it never crossed my mind that I would one day sit down and wonder if I would even make it to a graduation when the universe seemed so determined to plague the world with violence and hatred.
I was working as a tutor at the high school I’d recently graduated from, I was enjoying being in a position where I could give back to the education system that had given me so much opportunity and determination to pursue a higher education during a time I thought it’d be improbable. Students were well aware of what our city was described by community and media, but it didn’t stop me from referring to San Bernardino as anything other than home. My two younger brothers were both students attending that school at the time, so when the lockdown was declared, I was immediately concerned about them. A computer lab with 20+ students all logging into a live newsfeed is still one of the eeriest moments of my life that I will never forget. Shootings in San Bernardino were nothing new, it hadn’t even occurred to me what was truly happening until a news anchor mentioned that they were still unsure if this was some sort of terrorist attack.
“In San Bernardino?” a student asked.
The question passed through my mind as well, and it still makes me wonder why it was that I felt as though San Bernardino was incapable of being a target for something like this. That year alone had been witness to 44 murders, over a thousand reported assaults, 98 cases of rape, and over four thousand cases of theft. Surely a city listed under the most dangerous cities in the United States would have no reason to become a potential target of terrorism, right?
I don’t recall how long the lockdown lasted, but we were allowed to leave at our regularly scheduled time and it was numbing sensation meeting with my brothers and ushering them into my car, my hands shaking every time I had to pull over as several police vehicles and a larger black van barreled down the streets, sirens blaring.
My mom was already watching the news when we got home and it became a moment of stunned silence as we watched the live helicopter footage of a vehicle believed to belong to the attackers stopped in a secluded area as authorities surrounded them. A married couple from Redlands was inspired by terrorist groups and attacked in the middle of a Christmas party, killing 14 people and injuring 22. The standoff lasted for over an hour as authorities were unsure if the vehicle was safe to approach. The camera lowered the field of vision to a distance of the vehicle where everybody watching live saw the dead body of what I assumed was one of the suspects. The camera was quick to pan away from the disturbing image with the narrator sputtering an apology to the viewers.
Authorities approached the vehicle using heavy machinery and found that the two suspects were dead from the shootout prior to the approach.
San Bernardino was everywhere on the internet. Prayers were sent in, images telling us to remain strong during this shocking and terrible time. I had never met the people that were killed, but it didn’t stop me from mourning them. It hurt seeing these words that offered comfort when it felt as though we had been ignored before every time someone’s life was taken by the city. I was angry, I refused to accept the strong grips over my shoulders, but when the anger faded I recalled all the other times I felt I could do nothing but offer words of comfort during times of crisis. It gripped my heart seeing those same words and images, especially coming from people who were nowhere near the city.
I still ask the question “why?” when thinking about this specific date, but I do for it completely different reason. I wonder why anyone could ever make the conscious decision to claim the life of another human being? Why is there still so much hate in the world? And what do I do when I feel like there is nothing I can offer to the others going through the same?
Unfortunately these are questions that I still haven’t had answered, and it may never be answered in my lifetime. I do know that when I write about these moments and feelings, I am making it impossible to forget. I ensure that I will never forget this date, the feelings of that exact moment, and the desire to see a future where there is no hate.